A tiny leaf could save millions of lives. Vanessa Zommi, founder of Emerald Moringa Tea, discovered moringa, popularly known across Africa as the “tree of life,” after several members of her family became ill. Searching for a natural remedy for their ailments, she decided to start a business to empower communities to take care of their health and support local farmers. Ayiba’s Akinyi Ochieng spoke to the Cameroonian entrepreneur about moringa’s potential benefits, and navigating start-up life in Cameroon.
What is moringa?
Moringa grows mostly in the tropics usually in Sub Saharan Africa. It is also locally grown in Cameroon. This plant has numerous nutritional values, and all of its parts can be used for medicinal purposes.
Moringa contains seventeen times more calcium than milk, fifteen times more potassium than bananas, ten times more vitamin A than carrots, nine times more protein than milk, fifty percent more vitamin C than oranges, and twenty-five times more iron than spinach.
It lowers sugar level and blood pressure, improves mood, digestion and immune system function, protects the stomach lining, treats stomach ulcers, and boosts energy levels. It’s also great for diabetes relief, healthy skin, and nutrition!
What sparked the idea for Emerald Moringa Tea?
I was inspired to start this project in 2013 when I had a family tragedy: my grandparents passed away from diabetes. That same year, my mum informed me she too was suffering from diabetes. Since her diagnosis, I started asking myself how I could help, because she is the most important person in my life. I researched traditional ways of controlling the blood sugar level and I fell on the miracle tree—moringa. I learned more about the plant by attending agro-pastoral events in Buea, Cameroon, where I met farmers who grew the plant. After talking to them, I decided to add value to the plant by transforming the raw moringa leaves into a finished product—moringa tea.
How do you work with the Buea community to produce your product?
Emerald Moringa Tea works with qualified and hardworking farmers in Buea to produce the moringa sold to customers, ensuring quality in everything that is done across the supply chain. We also train our regular clients on how they can plant moringa so they can help ensure the sustainability of the raw material in a long run.
Where is Emerald Moringa Tea sold?
Currently we sell in the South West region, Centre, and Littoral region. We distribute throughout Cameroon for clients who place orders and are not situated in the regions listed above.
How do you hope to see your company expand in the future?
In the near future we hope to expand fully in all the regions of Cameroon, and develop a full-time distribution team. We also hope get a more mechanized production and packaging system, which will help to boost production and product conformity to the international standards.
What is the entrepreneurial climate in Cameroon like?
The entrepreneurial climate in Cameroon is challenging, but every year the government is trying its best to ameliorate things. In recent years, the government has created numerous initiatives to support youth entrepreneurship such as PIAASI (Programme Intégré d’Appui aux Acteurs du Secteur Informel), PAJER-U (Programme d’Appui à la Jeunesse Rurale et Urbaine), Investir au Cameroun, and competitions to helps youths. The key thing is for youths to look for opportunities which are available and not wait for some miracle to occur.
How can we better support African women in business?
By providing them with mentoring and networking opportunities so that they can build their business under the guidance of people who have built successful businesses and grow a network that will open many doors to partners with whom they can work to increase their impact.
founder of Emerald Moringa Tea,
founder of Emerald Moringa Tea,
How have you been able to work with your team while still in school?
The key is delegation, empowerment, and follow up. As a leader, one cannot do everything. That is why tasks I cannot accomplish I give to my teammate who can do it better and handle it. In doing so I empower him or her to be responsible and make sure the task is done well. At the end I always follow up to ensure my teammate is doing the work or task well and always appreciate them either with retirement dinners or symbolic awards.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in launching your business?
Launching a business comes with a lot of challenges. The first was identifying the right target market for our products, but we are also struggling with access to finance to help us better brand the tea and with finding an adequate team to carry the project forward.
Nevertheless, we believe in ‘Just Do It,’ and even if some members are still slacking we just move with those involved to carry the vision forward, believing they will follow.
What do you wish you knew before you launched Emerald Moringa Tea?
I wish I knew a better way of raising funds for the business may be through crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Go Fund Me, etc. I also wish I had identified the right demographics of my target market ahead of time.
But it is better to be late than never, so we will start crowdfunding soon under our new brand tea, which in Swahili means ‘Healthy.’ We wanted a brand that reflects our continent, Africa, and so we decided to do a rebranding. Look out for the link to support us!