One of the key aims of Challenges’ is to support enterprises across Africa set up trade linkages within their local economies and for export to the ever growing global market. PoaPoa is an exciting new venture that is working closely with Challenges Worldwide and the Challenges Group to test the UK market for products from one of our enterprises in Ghana.
Who are you and what does your venture do?
My name is Marco, I’m a recent graduate from the LSE with an MSc in Development Management. Before joining LSE, I studied Anthropology at Goldsmiths University and did my research in Kenya among coconut farmers. There, I set up a small scale coconut oil processing facility to help farmers add value to their crops. I originally started a company in the UK called PoaPoa with the intention of bringing Kenyan coconut oil to the EU market and use it to produce natural cosmetics.
There are two main driving forces behind this company: after witnessing the sense of disenfranchisement of many farmers on the Kenyan coast, I felt that creating access to markets and trade linkages was the best way to promote development and economic prosperity for the coconut producers I was working with. This is based on the idea that, if approached correctly, agro-processing can be a powerful tool for poverty eradication in African countries that can directly benefit farmers’ communities.
The second driving force of PoaPoa is more personal: since I was a kid I suffered atopic dermatitis (super sensitive skin) and I had to use expensive products to treat the intense itching and dry skin. I was growing very frustrated with the issue because it would cause me sleepless nights and ugly rashes on my arms and legs. Coconut oil and sea water were a revelation for me because with time they made my problem disappear completely! This is how I became interested in natural cosmetics and in exploring the wonders of nature’s healing powers. I started experimenting with natural ingredients such as coconut oil, shea butter, beeswax and essential oils to make my own balms for the skin, deodorants and toothpastes – it was the start of a revolution!
About Marco and Ellinor
Marco and Ellinor met while studying for a MSc in Development Management at the London School of Economics. They both have an interest in entrepreneurship, development in Africa, and in understanding how market-based mechanisms can be tools for poverty alleviation. During the course of the master’s degree, they developed these interests by working as consultants for the Fairtrade Foundation in Ellinor’s case and for the Government of Nicaragua in Marco’s case, in order to research investment opportunities in the fair trade sector and export strategies of handcrafted products in the EU respectively. After graduating, Ellinor has started work as Portfolio Manager with Challenges Worldwide, with whom she had volunteered in 2014 in Zambia. Her position involves tracking over 120 businesses in Ghana, most of which deal with agro-processed products, such as shea butter, and connecting them with trade and finance opportunities. Marco and Ellinor are now continuing to develop their passion by working on a partnership between PoaPoa and Challenges Worldwide in order to bring the best shea butter and shea-based cosmetics to the UK!
PoaPoa Mission Statement
We want to bring you a range of wonderful, natural cosmetics, created using the very best high quality and sustainably sourced ingredients.
In 2015, we started working with local entrepreneurs and small-scale farmers in Kenya, in order to set up coconut oil processing facilities. Today, PoaPoa aims to become a platform of exchange between producers and users of natural ingredients, giving you access to the best products, while directly sourcing them from small scale businesses.
We are a very young startup company and social enterprise that works with small-scale producers in Kenya, Ghana and the Philippines. We are creating a fully integrated, sustainable supply chain for natural ingredients such as coconut oil, shea butter and beeswax as well as supporting small business by distributing their products if they meet our sustainability and quality standards.
We aim to cut out the middle man by directly sourcing our ingredients from producers and selling them online to our customers. This allows us to ensure greater profits for the bottom of the supply chain and significant savings for our customers.
Origin of PoaPoa
The first version of PoaPoa dates back to 2012, in Kenya when Marco, a student of anthropology in London met Tom, a young entrepreneur raised on a farm with plenty of coconuts who introduced him to the world of the Cocos Nucifera. Together, they started a small palm wine bar, or mangwe. This experience allowed them to understand the value chain of the products from the farm to the consumer and to interact directly with farmers who were often complaining about a feeling of disenfranchisement and a lack of equitable access to markets.
An issue common among commodity value chains is that of the ‘middle man’ (an intermediary who buys from producers and sells to the next person in the value chain at a profit). This is problematic for most farmers in the coastal area because of buyers, who come from neighbouring countries, negotiate the price way below market level by offering readily available cash to farmers who are often in need. Farmers often take the deal because the coconut tree is not always their main crop and a bit of cash today is better than uncertainty tomorrow. This dynamic also has a detrimental effect on the coconut industry because it promotes premature harvesting, which endangers the productivity of the plant in the long run. We wanted to change that!
In 2015 we set up a small processing facility in Kilifi, entirely crowdfunded and with the mission of providing a reliable and stable buying partner to the farmers of the coast. We wanted to provide employment for young people and to promote a sense of ownership among the farmers and to turn their coconut trees into a valuable source of income.
This project was a great learning experience that we are now developing into a larger system of farm-level processing facilities since launching PoaPoa Natural Cosmetics in 2016. This will bring the production and profits even closer to the farmers. We believe in the power of cooperation and partnership, we strive to bring consumers closer to producers and to create virtuous links between entrepreneurs, NGOs and Government Agencies.