#TeamTomatoJos is led by two social entrepreneurs with a passion for food and a strong desire to support socially responsible economic development in Africa. Between us, we have six years of number-crunching experience in the US and Europe, six years of operating experience in Africa, two years of entrepreneurial experience, multiple graduate degrees from top universities, and a whole lot of love for all things tomato!
We chose the name "Tomato Jos" (rhymes with "boss") because it is distinctly Nigerian - Jos is a city in Nigeria known for its fertile land and temperate climates. In fact, the term Tomato Jos means "cute girl" in Nigerian slang, since the tomatoes from Jos are especially ripe and juicy! Our model farm is located in Keffi, a small town few hours outside of Jos. The tomatoes in Keffi may not be as famous as the ones in Jos, but they sure are delicious - and our tomato paste will be, too!
This past May, we went from being full-time students to being full-time tomato entrepreneurs, diving headfirst into the world of global agriculture. We evaluated 16 different locations across Ghana and Nigeria in order to find the right place to set up our farming operations. Along the way, we've developed close relationships with the Nigerian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development as well as other technical partners on the ground.
The next quarter will be an exciting one. We are establishing operations in Nigeria, which means #TeamTomatoJos will be spending considerable time in Nasarawa state building the nursery, planting seedlings, preparing the fields, designing the trials, and building a strong community of smallholder farmers who will form the backbone of our operation. We keep a weekly blog, so sign up to to stay informed about our progress!
Risks and challenges
It takes great tomatoes to make tomato paste - and there are a number of risks associated with agriculture (and with Nigeria!) that could delay the completion of our project. Here are the risks, and how we're mitigating them!
Low Harvest: The rainy season is just finishing up in Nigeria, so we are right on time to start planting seedlings in our greenhouse. However, there is always a risk that the "Harmatan" season (the hottest time of the year) will come early, which could negatively affect the tomato crops when they are transplanted to the field. If we see uncooperative weather patterns or a natural disaster such as a flood or a drought, we may need to fulfill backers' orders for tomato paste using tomatoes that we buy from the market, rather than tomatoes grown on our farm and by the farmers in our network.
Equipment: We are in touch with the manufacturing partners who we will work with for small-scale processing equipment, and they have equipment in stock. Although there could still be delays in getting equipment to our site, we are trying to mitigate this risk by launching the kickstarter campaign for equipment more than four months before the tomatoes will be harvested, to build in a sufficient lead time for its arrival.
Security: Boko Haram is an Islamist extremist group in West Africa that aspires to establish Islamic law in Nigeria, to destabilize the Nigerian government and to remove western influence from the country. Boko Haram regularly mounts attacks in northern Nigeria. The majority of attacks occur in the northeast, particularly in Borno and Yobe states where Boko Haram has based its operations. There have, however, been a number of Boko Haram-related attacks in other Nigerian states. To mitigate the threat associated with terrorism we are operating in Nasarawa state deemed by the US State Department to be at low risk of insurgency. Additionally, we work closely with foreign offices and security companies that compile a weekly risk assessment report that captures alerts on changing threats to safety and security of personnel, critical infrastructure, supply lines and transportation routes. Finally, we are working with a private security company to secure our operational assets and, more importantly, protect our staff.
Shipment Delays: We will need to get our delicious tomato paste from Nigeria, where it is made, to our backers all over the world. Depending on how many backers support our project, we may need time to work with both customs and food agencies on the appropriate methods to bring our products safely and securely to their final destinations.
Live Streaming: Internet connectivity on the farm can sometimes be an issue, especially during the rainy season when storms can knock out power, cell phone coverage and even satellite reception. For those backers who purchase the live-streamed cooking lesson, depending on the time of year that the lessons are fulfilled, we may need to live-stream from Lagos or Abuja rather than from the farm in Nasarawa State.
Ebola: Ebola is an increasing concern in many West African countries. Nigeria experienced a small number of cases over the summer, but was able to successfully eradicate the disease from its borders earlier this fall. Although no cases have been reported in any of the countries immediately bordering Nigeria, the virus remains a very real threat to the region, and thus to the safety of our farmers, our staff, and ourselves. We are monitoring the situation closely.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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