The Natural Extracts Industries (NEI) has its headquarters at the picturesque foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro! You can smell the raw earth here, as fresh ingredients are processed using modern eco-friendly methods, creating flavours that are truly evocative of this land. Today these flavours are marketed across the world; and they are perfect for use in a range of delicious food and drink – from cakes and pastries to ice-cream and cocktails.
NEI was established in 2011, when a small, multi-talented team came together to set up a social enterprise that would accelerate economic development of smallholder farmers by adding value to local crops, because there was a need to add value to their crops. Here’s why: in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania, around three-fourths of the population comprises small-holder farmers. With a growing population, individual farm sizes began to decrease over the years. It reached a point where each farmer was left with less than a hectare of land from which to support a typical household of 5 members. Farming coffee and bananas for livelihood, the abundant harvest brought down comparative demand; coffee prices began to decrease too. This created much insecurity for farmers, as their incomes began to plateau at USD 500 per year.
As an enterprise dedicated to sustainability, NEI recommended the farmers to go in for the cultivation of natural flavours such as vanilla. For this it reached into the botanical riches of Tanzania, well-known for its exceptional, delicate and delicious fruits and spices. Farmers who adopted intercropping with Vanilla were typically recommended to plant 50-100 plants to significantly increase income levels. Such an intercropping of flavour-based crops along with its existing crops fulfilled a two-fold vision – to satisfy global demand for sustainably-sourced natural flavours, and ensure long-term socio-economic benefit for local communities. This led to the global brand – Epicurious Hedgehog, a brand of flavours that include Kilimanjaro Vanilla, which we are further detailing here. These flavours can be used for home consumption or at a higher strength by discerning chefs, dairy producers and natural food connoisseurs. There’s something to say about NEI’s production processes – from production to post-harvest, natural material, inputs and ingredients are used. The operations are ecologically friendly, reducing impact on the environment through recycling and reduction of consummables.
NEI has a dedicated team of agricultural experts, food technologists and business management personnel to ensure the maintenance of the highest quality standards right from planting to packing. NEI’s cultivation belt covers nearly 5000 farmers in Tanzania; NEI provides technical guidance for cultivation and best prices for their produce. Managing all these operations requires a technology solution, for which NEI has deployed SourceTrace’s DATAGREEN platform to support its sustainable farming initiative. Through mobile software applications and hardware that transact and transmit data from remote areas, this advanced technology platform streamlines the processes at field level.
For example, the software solutions directly interact with the farmers and capture data at the touch points of smallholder farmers such as farmer profiling, distributing agricultural inputs, advisory services and procurement. However, there is a catch. In the case of NEI, the farmers don’t take to cultivating vanilla and getting enrolled by default. They go through a few rounds of screening and eligibility assessment. At first is a sensitisation stage, where NEI explains the details and processes of vanilla farming. Even at this stage, the farm and farmer details are captured digitally through SourceTrace software. The NEI staff then makes a field visit to assess if they meet all the required conditions to grow vanilla and their commitment level to the program. Only the farmers who clear this process will get to the registration stage. When the eligible farmer is finally enrolled, all information related to the farm and farmer is captured, including crop details and geo-reference of the farm. When this data is uploaded to the system, it is possible to get the complete details of the farmer along with its photographs and the exact area of production. This enables the field staff to make timely visits to update crop information and estimated yield in order to get accurate data of the enrolled farmer.
A key aspect of the transaction between NEI and the enrolled farmers is that the vine cuttings, provided by NEI to the farmer, are subsidized. For every vine cutting that the farmer purchases from NEI, he gets 4 vine cutting complementary. These transactions are effectively managed using SourceTrace’s solution. The entire process can be monitored and controlled to view real time data at any point of time. SourceTrace solution also effectively manages several other operations like procurement and field monitoring. Pest and diseases too can be identified, following which the farmer receives advisory on its management from agronomists. Lastly, there is also a training module, which facilitates the creation and scheduling of various training programs for farmers groups.
The training is defined by topic, criteria, target group, training methods and calendar schedule. The entire programme details can be downloaded into the mobile phones of the field staff. It helps them simply follow the programme schedule, conduct the training and capture details of farmer groups who have attended. This includes four compulsory training modules as well as an optional one.
Coming up from NEI’s end is a qualitative, behavioural research study, the findings of which will be compared with the data captured by SourceTrace. The result of this comparative analysis is expected by mid 2020, and will help identify indicators of farmer success.
SourceTrace solutions are a one-stop destination for all of NEI’s supply chain management information systems, monitoring and evaluation, procurement and payment tracking, organic certification, as well as scheduling of training programmes. Achieving our high standards has become possible with this solution that is simple and user-friendly, robust and seamlessly fulfills all our farmer management-related requirements
Today, at SourceTrace we’re happy to share our moment of pride and fulfillment, having made it as the cover story in the Food and Beverage Tech Review.