Mali is one of those quiet countries you don’t hear a lot about. A landlocked country in western Africa, it’s about twice the size of Texas and one of the poorest countries in the world. Home to the fabulous ancient cities of Timbuktu and Djenne, Mali has 13 million people, 50% of them under the age of 18. It has been a successful democracy for twenty years, yet 67% of its people are suffering from malnutrition and 30% live below the poverty line.
Those statistics are simply unacceptable to the Niang brothers, whose family roots are in Mali. “Mali has a rich, vibrant culture and plenty of natural resources,” says Mohamed Ali Niang, 21, now finishing his degree in the Fox School of Business at Temple University in Philadelphia. “But everywhere you look, you see people who are poor, desperate, and have to struggle daily for the most basic human right – simply having food to eat.”
Their solution: Malo Traders www.malotraders.com a not-just-for-profit social/business venture that improves post-harvest losses by partnering with farmers to improve, protect, process, package, store, label and market rice– one of Mali’s largest staple crops. Today, Malian farmers lose $20 million of their rice crop in post-harvest losses because they don’t have storage facilities and processing available to them.
Malo Traders plans to help Malian rice farmers both grow more nutritious rice– and protect and retain at least 10% more of their crop, thereby boosting income and alleviating hunger. Today, Malo Traders is exchanging ideas with PATH in Washington state on how to bring Ultra Rice, a strain enriched with iron, zinc and Vitamin A, to Africa to combat the anemia that afflicts over 60% of Mali’s people. Their business plan also includes building processing plants to clean, polish and package farmers’ rice before it rots in the fields or is sold at a loss to opportunistic middlemen.
Malo Traders’s ultimate goal is provide food security for Mali. 80% of the labor force works in agriculture, and if the Niang brothers can help make that a viable economic enterprise, the hope is that young, strong people will stay in the villages and countryside instead of fleeing to urban areas and foreign countries for jobs.
“In Mali, we don’t need more telecommunications investments,” Niang states. “We need to be producing food for people to eat. There’s a whole generation of young entrepreneurs right here in Mali. But if you’re hungry, you can’t study at school, you can’t start a business, and you can’t have respect and dignity.”
Niang and his brother Salif (a doctoral student in international relations at Purdue) are bringing their educations, innovative ideas and investors (!!) back to Mali to make Malo Traders a reality. “We know the country, we know the people, and we’re not going anywhere until we’ve tackled and solved this problem of chronic hunger in Mali. Because if we don’t do it, nobody else will.”
For passion like that (and for a business plan so compelling it’s been lauded in social entrepreneurship competitions from Harvard to University of Washington — and now onto Berkeley!) my $100 today is going to Malo Traders.