[Interview] Augustine Sensie Bangura, CEO, Sierra Agri Foods, Sierra Leone
Augustine Sensie Bangura is the entrepreneur behind Sierra Agri Foods, an agricultural food processing business selected by the United Nations as one of the 50 Best Small Businesses in the world providing good food for their communitity.
Could you tell us about your company?
Sierra Agri Foods (SAF) is an agricultural food manufacturing company based in Sierra Leone. We started operations in September 2019, and our focus at this point is to add value on orange-fleshed sweet potato to produce nutritious bread and baby food products. We are expanding into other food products and it is important to understand that each of our products is nutritious and healthful.
Here is our differentiator: we have an integrated farmer cooperative model that supplies and trains our farmers - mostly women and youth - and allows them a big bite of the economic reward inspired by our philosophy of “Shared Prosperity”.
Were there particular circumstances in your community that led you to start your agri-food business and what support, if any, did you receive from local government or your community?
It is no secret that Sierra Leone has been challenged in the past by war and disease. We now face difficulties with proper nutrition, stunted growth in children and poverty due to the lack of jobs and career opportunities. I was schooled as an attorney and prior to that, as a priest. I discovered early on that I can do my best work for others, as well as my own family, friends, schoolmates and Sierra Leone in general, by creating profitable opportunities for hundreds of people and their families. Incorporating organisational skills while teaching a person to fish (metaphorically) is key. We have a simple easy-to-duplicate model that we developed and that we work with everyday.
Regarding institutional support, we mostly bootstrapped our startup and supplemented our own earned funds with additional funds from interested organisations such as the World Bank and Helen Keller International, both of which see what we are trying to accomplish and what we are capable of doing. We at SAF understand how to leverage each and every dollar we come in contact with for the direct betterment and improvement of others.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic directly or indirectly impacted your business operations?
Any disruption to business is a challenge. Fortunately for most of Sierra Leone, we know how to deal with pandemics as well as one can, even with our limited resources. On the bright side, we at SAF always lean towards the positive to make things happen and get things done; people need to eat everyday. So we provide bread and baby food every day for our clients.
The arrival of COVID-19 has caused us to do more with less and has definitely slowed grant fund possibilities.
What other challenges have you faced in your journey and how have you worked to overcome these?
Our challenges lie close to the surface and are easy to highlight:
• Changing the local farmers’ mindset
• Access to finance
• Access to professional and affordable packaging.
Overcoming these remains a work-in-progress.
Describe what it means for your agri-food enterprise to be selected by the UN as one of the 50 Best Small Businesses in the world?
Confirmation and recognition of our model raises awareness and legitimizes our efforts toward a healthy and sustainable diet for the people of Sierra Leone. Being one of the winners of this competition provides us with much-needed credibility on an international level. Our story along with that of others in top 50 has been picked up by news feeds and additional interests around the world. I am deeply grateful to the UN Food Systems for this opportunity.
What is your vision for 2022 and beyond in delivering a more nourishing, sustainable, equitable and resilient food system?
We intend to expand the production of baby foods and launch other nutritious food products. The demand for our baby food is overwhelming and our current capacity does not allow us to meet such market demands. Access to finance is therefore crucial.
What further support does your business and others like you need to create good and sustainable food for all?
• Funding for mechanization
• Funding for growth and distribution
• Government buy-in and direct support
• International market development
What key advice would you give to others that would like to follow your example to become passionate, values-driven, innovative food entrepreneurs?
Understand that it is not easy. One must work twice as hard as those on your team that support what is being accomplished in order to demonstrate to them that it eventually pays off; that we truly can make opportunities for ourselves and countless others. Capitalism works, yes, but you must work to make it work.
Is there anything you’d like to add that you feel strongly about in providing Good Food For All?
Trust, ethics, shared prosperity, great technology and modern efficient methods and techniques will fill every belly that is empty. Please provide the funds or means of our growth and watch how we are able to multiply them for others over and over and over again.
This interview is part of a series covering the winners of the United Nations Best Small Business providing Good Food for All global competition.