Tolaro Global (Tolaro) is a for-profit primary processor of cashews founded in 2010 in central Benin. It is an outgrowth of Projects for Progress, a not-for-profit organization who has been focusing on providing clean water sources and educating women since 2008 in central Benin.
Undaunted by infrastructure challenges, our founder and CEO, Jace Rabe, saw opportunity for processing cashews in a region that grows more than 40% of the world’s cashews, but processes less than 5%. He knew that agronomy training for local farmers, to improve the size and quality of their crop, as well as to provide staple crops, was integral to making a sustainable local value chain. And he knew that the longer and more robust the value chain is, the more sustainable it is. Thus, his vision extends from producing saplings in Benin to producing retail packages of cashews for the United States.
While vision is the usual impetus for a start-up, funding is the most common issue, especially when the addition of a step to the local value chain must combat both industry practices and lack of infrastructure. Therefore, we partnered with Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation to invest in the creation of a new processing facility that will focus on roasting and seasoning cashews, which should be completed by October 2017. The new facility and cashew line will be known as Rotissage, and will roast, season, and package nuts for western retail markets.
Additionally, we have invested in the training of farmers to help secure the quality of cashews that we will offer in retail packaging. Since the start of the partnership, we have trained 1,500 farmers in agronomy practices that will allow them to grow more cashews, to intercrop staple foods between their rows, and to be more likely to participate in the profit sharing from the Rotissage business unit. One specific success of the training initiative is that of Alagbe L’Ahana, who participated in a previous training program conducted by Tolaro Global. Here is her story, from her perspective:
My name is Alagbe L’Ahana. I live in Tourou and am married with two children, a seven-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. In 2010, I started taking the life skills course for women at Projects for Progress. In 2012, I received my certificate of excellence. Because I did well in the class, I was chosen to be a host for future trainings. In 2015, I was trained to be a lead-farmer through a joint project between Projects for Progress and Tolaro Global. I learned several things that helped me to grow crops in the same fields I grow cashews. This was difficult work. I had to remove trees to make space for crops and I had to prune other trees to make them more productive. Cashew wood is very hard. But now I have a good yield of cashew. On the same land, I grow soybeans, maize, sorghum, peanuts and yams, all on one hectare of land, shared with the cashew trees.
I am a seamstress by trade and, thanks to the profit that I realized from the farming project, I built a beautiful workshop, well-equipped with both a manual and an electric sewing machine. From my farming and sewing, I can support my family and even send my children to school. Now, my husband is interested in the farming.