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Short Reports

CALS Team Helps Emerging Markets in Africa

By Susan Lang

To help a fledgling natural-food products company in Botswana that produces snacks from plants in the wild while benefiting local communities, three CALS students and an applied economics and management (AEM) faculty member flew to the southern African nation for 10 days over winter break.

AEM research associate Ed Mabaya, right,
and Frank Taylor, left, WildFoods' founder.

AEM research associate Ed Mabaya, right, and Frank Taylor, left, WildFoods' founder.

The trip, led by Ed Mabaya, MS '98, PhD '03, an AEM research associate, involved working with social entrepreneur Frank Taylor, who founded WildFoods in 2007 with a commitment to sustainability and helping the local people. Taylor buys his fruits from local residents who sustainably harvest the fruits from the wild—marula, Kalahari truffles, and Bushveld melons and cucumbers—where they would otherwise rot or be eaten by wild animals. In its 8,600-square-foot factory outside of Gaborone, WildFoods transforms the indigenous plant products into jams and snack foods.

The Cornell team conducted business analyses and developed strategic plans for the company, including marketing strategies and mechanisms to streamline inventory control, costing, and bookkeeping. The students were selected for the trip by Cornell's Emerging Markets Program, which also sponsored similar field trips over break to Kenya, where students worked with an agro-chemical company, and to South Africa, where students analyzed the natural products industry.

"The field study courses are a unique opportunity to integrate in-class learning, practical experience, and outreach service," says Mabaya.

WildFoods' products are distributed to supermarkets and craft stores and on airlines in Botswana and South Africa. Taylor hopes to increase distribution to game reserve lodges.

"We can really have a big economic impact on these small subsistence farmers," Taylor told the students.

While in Botswana, AEM senior John Castle '09 used spreadsheet software to help Taylor simplify his inventory records. "I was also able to help Frank find the costs of producing single units of his different products. This experience will hopefully add value to Frank's business, as well as help provide me with real-world experience in international development," he says.