Close-up of cashews being worked into snacks
Portrait of Senegalese entrepreneur Hermione Awounou.

Hermione Awounou wants to feed Senegal with local, healthy snacks

3 April 2024
ITC News

Hermione’s business ACASEN works with ITC’s Alliances for Action to promote ‘made in Senegal’ cashew products. She’s part of a trend that’s moving Africa away from exporting only raw commodities.

A wave of finished products touting the catch phrase ‘made in Africa’ is on the rise, as the world recognizes that the continent has so much more to offer than raw commodities.

From roasted coffee and chocolate to fashion and interior design, African countries are positioning themselves on the global market with a new portfolio and mindset. In Senegal, entrepreneurs are exploring how to add value to cashews, for the local and international markets.

ACASEN is one of these companies, led by co-founder Hermione Awounou, a woman with a vision that goes beyond turning a profit. This Senegalese family business seeks to transform local crops into high-quality and innovative products.

By adding value to cereals, cashew nuts, peanuts and potatoes, Hermione hopes to open local markets for healthy and authentic natural products. ‘Our objective is to promote “made in Africa” by offering healthy and natural products in collaboration with our valuable local suppliers,’ says Hermione.

By doing this, she wants to create wealth and employment for women and youth in the country. She also hopes to promote rural development by sourcing directly from producers in Senegal and surrounding countries.

With 20 years of experience, ACASEN’s clients include big oil companies Total, Elton and Shell, who represent a huge network for product distribution. Other prestigious clients include large hotels like Radisson Blu, and airline companies including Air Senegal.

From commodities to value-added products

In Senegal, under the Netherlands Trust Fund V programme, the Alliances for Action sustainable agribusiness initiative at the International Trade Centre (ITC) is working with cashew businesses to grow their operations sustainably, improve their competitiveness and reach new markets. ACASEN is one of the enterprises in this cohort.

‘Our market must be the first consumer of our own production,’ says Hermione. ‘We want to feed Senegal and Africa our healthy snack products that are locally made and the result of direct relationships with Senegalese producers and intermediaries.’

Hermione explains that Africa’s large population also has great potential. However, challenges remain for African entrepreneurs looking to add value in-country.

‘When we export products according to required standards, premium products take precedence, and the “sorting deviations” remain to be consumed locally,’ says Hermione. ‘It’s tragic. I want to see premium products consumed by Africans who can afford them. The ideas are there, but the resources are lacking.’

She underscores a lack of funding as the biggest obstacle, and the need for Africans to develop their own equipment technologies to develop sustainably.

Woman-led growth

ACASEN is the embodiment of three generations of women. Founded by Hermione’s mother and later taken over by Hermione herself, she is now teaching her daughter the basics of running the business. More importantly, she’s showing her what the bigger picture is, and how they can play a role in the development of Senegal’s value-added sector.

‘I want to bequeath to my children the business and knowledge I received from my own mother. I also want them to have the confidence to move forward and evolve in their own direction,’ she says.

WIC Capital is a local investor that seeks to unleash the growth potential of women-led businesses by providing adequate capital, technical assistance and business networks. They have played an active role in ACASEN’s business development by investing in the company while offering additional technical support from the WIC Academy to ensure efficient use of the investment.

According to Hermione, women will play a crucial role in the development of Africa’s business landscape.

‘The African woman, for me, is the woman who manages everything,’ she says.

‘She has an inner capacity that allows her to take charge and succeed. Like my mother, I want to lead, pilot and succeed in the projects I undertake. For me, female entrepreneurship is the way to develop our economy and our industries. The African woman is visionary but also prudent, which is essential for entrepreneurship.’

Hermione, with the support of ITC and the NTFV programme, is looking at product diversification, packaging and tech solutions to scale up her brand and improve ACASEN’s market presence in-country and abroad. As part of the program support, the company has been supported for the structuring of its fundraising strategy and prepared for the investment application.

About the project

The Netherlands Trust Fund V (NTF V) (July 2021 – June 2025) is based on a partnership between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands and the International Trade Centre. The programme supports MSMEs in the digital technologies through its EcomConnect programme and agribusiness sectors through its Alliances for Action programme. Its ambition is two-fold: to contribute to an inclusive and sustainable transformation of food systems, partially through digital solutions, and drive the internationalization of tech start-ups and export of IT&BPO companies in selected Sub-Saharan African countries.