32-year-old Ibrahim Conteh graduated from Njala University in 2016, but, until 2019, his endless search for a job opportunity brought him more frustration. His penchant for working in the formal job market began to spiral down quickly as he wandered.
Conteh’s exposure to the job market challenge was not entirely bad. He used his free time to study consumer behavior and maximize markets’ opportunities by deciding to invest his meager resources in an entrepreneurship that created employment for himself and other young people who were equally unemployed and lived below the poverty line.
Conteh had started experimenting and developing his business ideas from a 10-hectare family cashew farm in Bo District, Southern Sierra Leone.
“For six months, I was just experimenting with seedlings of different cashew varieties to understand what works best,” he stated.
Six months after he was identified through UNDP Accelerator Lab’s nationwide grassroots solutions mapping exercise as a high potential innovator, enrolled in a 6-month (July-December 2021) Design and Entrepreneurship Training Programme to build capacity, Ibrahim has developed his passion for changing the narrative of what seems to be a culture of growing and not processing value-added cashew nuts in Africa.
With his newly earned skills from the training courses completed at the Institute of Public Administration Management (IPAM)-University of Sierra Leone and Limkokwing University, Ibrahim is now empowered to own a local cashew nut brand (We Roasted Cashew Nuts) and a registered business company named ‘We Cashew Sierra Leone Ltd.’
“The value for my cashew nut product has doubled the normal value and is far-reaching because I now have the skills to process what is growing locally. That is why I prefer to deshell, package, and brand my cashew nut product before distribution in the market,” he added.
Ibrahim and a team of 10 casual workers buy cashew from local farmers and use their hands to crack the shell, and the testa, peel the kernel that is baked or roasted in salted and non-salted flavors and packaged into branded sachet before distribution into the market. According to Conteh, added value to cashew nuts translates to higher price and profit margin, thereby attracting young people to trade his product and make a decent living, while ensuring zero poverty in Africa, which is the largest producer of cashew nuts.
UNDP is happy to learn that Ibrahim Conteh’s product has made it to the shelves of five big supermarkets in the country’s two biggest cities, including Monoprix, Choithram, and Freetown supermarkets in the capital city.
With a team of casual workers, ‘We Cashew Sierra Leone Ltd.’ has trained five marketers to sell its products along major streets in Freetown and Bo cities.
In a branded functional packaging, ‘We Roasted Cashew Nuts’ has defied many odds and positioned itself by simply adding value to a home-grown product, optimizing unique-selling points in a growing competitive market with an emerging potential to dominate the market.
‘We Cashew Sierra Leone Ltd.’ has secured 150 hectares of land in Yele, Tonkolili District, where Ibrahim and the team want to establish the company’s first cashew farm, providing job opportunities to more young people.
From a business idea borne out of his experience of being unemployed, a startup capital of $350, Ibrahim has set a new target of $10,000, which he hopes to generate in two years from sales and grants opportunities so that he can start his company’s cashew farm that mass produces every three years.
“My newly registered company needs equipment such as nutcracker, cashew kernel peeling machine, baker, cashew nut drying machine, peanut processing machine, and oil extraction machine to scale up,” he furthered.
Conteh’s short-term employment target is to recruit at least one hundred casual workers deployed in different parts of the country to market ‘We Roasted Cashew Nut’ while making a good living for themselves and their families.
‘We Roasted Cashew Nut’ is packaged and branded in 100g, 150g, 250g, and 300g.
Ibrahim is excited to partner with other local businesses. He also called on development partners to support his youthful initiative in our collective effort to realize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and assure a prosperous future for young people in Sierra Leone.