Producing healthy food and improving smallholder wages

Lys Mehou-loko
By on July 1, 2016

Green Banana Food Company is a venture recently registered on IBA which produces gluten-free pasta from green bananas, a fusion of other pulses, legumes, and vegetables, all while positively impacting small-scale farmers in Uganda. We talked to Sean Patrick, the entrepreneur behind Green Banana Food Company (GBFC), and found out more about this unique business idea

Sean PatrickHow did you get the idea for Green Banana Food company?

“At the core of GBFC lay the principles for a social enterprise: how do I take my passions and ideas and create added value and simultaneously create partnerships with BoP especially smallholder farmers? I grew up in Uganda with farming as part of the norm and at the same time faced with the dilemma of farming being an insufficient means of livelihood.

After several years of international development work, I realised that conventional development projects are not generating any sustainable transformations. The intentions are admirable but the process execution is a hindrance in itself. I started GBFC in late 2015 as a social enterprise that aims to create partnerships with farmers of under-utilised high-nutrient crops like green bananas, pulses, amaranth. Through food technology, we will have substantial added value in the form of high-nutrient, tasty food products that will bring traditional crops, paleo diets to your table.”

What is the most challenging part of this business?

“For this starting phase, the biggest challenge is getting the most appropriate processing techniques that will maintain most of the natural nutrients and properties intact. We had to take months of product development to find the right processing techniques and identifying partner companies with the right technology and the ethos of producing natural high nutrients food products that taste good.

Developing work partnerships with smallholders farmers can be an intense process especially if you have to create systems and practices from the group up such as green banana pre-processing done in the sourcing region, have a fair pricing system and sustainable sourcing practices. With limited access to appropriate technology infrastructure, we have had to look for partnerships with organisations that see social entrepreneurship as the driver for economic transformation in emerging economies as well as food companies, research institutes that have an interest in developing such infrastructure. It is a complex multi-stakeholder partnership but there’s great promise and ambition.”

What achievement are you most proud of?

“It was a long product development process, and I am so proud that we have managed to create a great pasta product that has the best nutrient content on the market, tastes great and has impact. The catering companies and restaurants we have shared our product as very eager to have our pasta, I couldn’t have asked for better way to start. It’s a good review or a productive critique that keep me going knowing we are on the right track with the right food product.

Having participated in the Impact Booster business accelerator programme is a proud achievement as well. Of 125 interested businesses, only 9 were selected and that to me is a good achievement. We have had exposure to a great network of experts that are actually passionate about what the different companies are developing. Knowledge with passion is a great combination that has helped us reach this stage with relative ease.”

GBFC pasta picture

Sean Patrick proudly presents his fresh, gluten-free pasta!

What does a typical day look like for you?
“Being a startup entrepreneur can be unforgiving to our sleep hours, social life as your idea with tend to consume you. If you love what you are trying to do, I have zero regrets and happy with the time and energy I put in my company; it’s a fulfilling and rewarding experience.

… A day doesn’t go by where I don’t have to explain how we turn green bananas into pasta. I have become knowledgeable in explaining the difference in green banana (Matooke in Uganda and Guineos verde in most of Latin America). The green banana we use is the cooking banana which is different from the unripe yellow banana. Often in the middle of my explanation, I will see the person go to the phone to look up the difference and voila! It’s something new.”

What is your projected impact over the next few years?

  • “Healthy food should not be a luxury. Affordable, natural healthy pasta is possible in Europe and North America. We have worked tirelessly to have a healthy pasta that is affordable to most economic scales. Healthy eating has been tagged to “super food” which claims a premium price on the market. I would like to see a change in the “superfoodisation” of natural healthy foods.
  • Also, I would like to achieve better processing capacity in Uganda, green banana milling, efficient solar drying, better sorting and milling of pulses and amaranth. With a lean operation in mind, it would be great to show how you can have an efficient system without having multi-million investments in equipment.
  • A visible social economic impact within the communities and households that will be part of our supply chain. From the start, we aim for a fair pricing system that will allow for farmers to earn a good living on their produce.
    We want to be a good example in Uganda and Africa of how you can take your passions and local resources to create value that transcends borders. I would like to see more and more food and agriculture-related social entrepreneurs coming up with great innovations. We hope to have supported and strengthened a business accelerator programme for the East African region. I want to be a good example for young people to look beyond and find ways to activate their passions and skills into impactful social innovations with a good business case.”

Visit Green Banana Food Company’s profile here