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Mangoes from Mali: the story behind a sun-drenched piece of fruit

If you recently enjoyed a juicy mango – and live in the Netherlands – there’s a fair chance it came from Mali. The piece of fruit made it from a Malian mango farmer to the shelves of a Dutch supermarket, with support from Cordaid Investments.

(Ready to be shipped to the Netherlands, mangoes from Mali. © SCS International)

When Mali is in the news, it is, unfortunately, not because of its great music scene or its stunning Sahelian architecture. Most of the news is related to militant Islamist groups. Or to the aftermath of the 2012 coup. This crisis resulted in more insecurity, poverty, and corruption and pushed the country even higher up the fragile states index (21st of 178), and lower down the Human Development Index (182 out of 189).

That is what makes the story of SCS International so special. This mango exporter is one of the few Malian companies that is succeeding in penetrating the demanding European market – more specifically the Dutch market. In doing so, it improves the lives of hundreds of Malian families.

Washing and packaging the handpicked mangoes. © SCS International

A man with a purpose

Moussa Diakité is the founder and motor of SCS International. He grows up among the fruit trees of his grandfather. Later, when he makes the switch from a fruit farmer to a real mango entrepreneur, he has one goal in mind: employing young people and helping farmers access markets, even international markets. He wants to boost the long-suffering Malian economy. And in particular, he wants to improve the lives of the small-scale farmers from the community in which he grew up.

“We approved a four-year loan with yearly repayments that are aligned with the mango season. This gives SCS the time to realize a benefit out of our investment, making it easier for them to repay.”

Brenda Pennell, investment manager at Cordaid Investments

Linking entrepreneurship to sustainability

This is precisely what he is doing today and he is doing it with financial support from Cordaid Investments. “SCS is a financially healthy and sustainable company. It has two operational hubs. We invested in the one of Sikasso, located in the heart of the Malian mango region, about 400 km southeast of the capital Bamako,” says Brenda Pennell, investment manager at Cordaid Investments. SCS International is her first Malian client.

Moussa Diaktité, CEO of SCS International

“SCS currently buys mangoes from some 850 mango growers. These are all breadwinners of large families. SCS provides them with a fair income. At least part of the year, because the mango season in Mali is from March to June. But SCS also trains the mango farmers in modern and sustainable crop-growing, irrigation and fertilization techniques. Storage, packaging and transport take place according to the strict international GAP rules.”

These Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) are a collection of principles to apply for on-farm production and postproduction processes. They result in safe and healthy food and non-food agricultural products while taking into account economic, social and environmental sustainability.

Moussa Diakité combines smart entrepreneurship with sustainability. He also has a chicken farm. Why chickens? Because he can use cardboard waste from the mango boxes for egg cartons. Because chicken manure is a great fertilizer for mangoes. And because he can sell eggs during the nine months a year mango trees do not bear fruit. And because the sun is ever-present in Mali, Diakité uses solar panels to power not only his facilities but also the surrounding neighbors. Circular, sustainable and social.

Cordaid Investments promotes growth

But SCS’s growth stagnated. This was not because there weren’t enough mangoes, or because the quality was inferior. “SCS had limited packing and cold storage capacity,” Pennell explains. This is where Cordaid Investments stepped in. This Cordaid subsidiary provides loans to social entrepreneurs who create jobs in disadvantaged and often extremely poor areas. “We wanted to work with SCS International. It is a sustainable company with a convincing track record and an international customer base. Our loan enabled them to increase their cold storage capacity. They also invested it in an automated grading machine. This resulted in better and more efficient inspection, weighing, selection and packing processes. And, ultimately, in better export and sales”, Pennell continues.

New conveyor belt, purchased with the Cordaid Investments loan. © SCS International

The social impact of a loan

But why can’t a Malian entrepreneur get a loan at his local bank? “Because banks in Mali cannot or do not want to offer the flexibility that medium-sized entrepreneurs like Moussa Diakité need to grow,” Pennell maintains. “Cordaid Investments does offer that. In the case of SCS International, we approved a four-year loan with yearly repayments that are aligned with the mango season. This gives them the time to realize a benefit out of our investment, making it easier for them to repay.”

Brenda Pennell (2nd from the left), during a visit to one of the mango orchards. © Cordaid

“Cordaid Investments is not a bank. We’re an impact investor. Our aim is social, not commercial. However, we need to be financially sustainable so that we can support sustainable social impact through private enterprise. With our loans, we want to ensure that local companies can help break the spiral of poverty in which communities are trapped.”

And it worked. The loan gave a boost to SCS. In the past year, its mango export to the Netherlands grew from 1540 to 1940 tons. And the prognosis is that the number of farmers from which SCS is buying its mangoes will increase from 850 to 1100 in the coming years. Also, they employ hundreds of seasonal workers who help to harvest, select and package the fruit. Considering that one farmer or worker provides for 10 people on average, you could say the social impact of such a company, and indirectly of our loan, is considerable.

Something good from Mali reaches the Netherlands

If you live in the Netherlands, you might have held a mango from SCS in your hands. Or better yet, you may have eaten one. These past few months they were a ‘price favorite’ on the shelves of the Albert Heijn, the largest supermarket chain in the country. Fruit importer Bakker Barendrecht buys them from SCS in Mali and resells them to Albert Heijn. So, the next time you see one of those sun-drenched mangoes in your local ‘Appie’, somewhere between March and June, you know the story behind them!

Mangoes from Mali, a ‘price favorite’ in the stores of Albert Heijn. © Cordaid

Exporting riches, creating jobs

But what about the long journey by sea? Is that sustainable and eco-friendly? And who profits most of the mango business, the Dutch or the Malians? “Of course, locally produced food is more sustainable than imported food,” Pennell admits. “But you can’t grow mangoes in the Netherlands. And the local price in Mali is insufficient for farmers to valorize their crops. As for transport, SCS opts for sea transport, instead of air transport. In terms of sustainability, that is a good choice.”

“As for profit: Yes, Albert Heijn and Bakker Barendrecht do make money with Malian mangoes. But mango farming communities in Mali also benefit from the support of the Albert Heijn Foundation. And Bakker Barendrecht continually invests in supporting SCS, allowing them to modernize their practices and to increase the value of their product. Thus, by investing in SCS, more value remains inside Mali. More jobs for young farmers and workers are created. This way, a poverty- and conflict-stricken country, that is so dependent on imports, can at least export something of its riches. This gives people hope. And an income”, Pennell concludes.

 

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