Senegalese entrepreneur brings indigenous foods back to Africa’s tables
Ibrahima Thiam is intent on raising Senegal and Africa’s consumer awareness of lost indigenous foods and cereals, and on mainstreaming them back into the continent’s eating habits.
‘Today, the things I ate growing up in my village in Senegal, I can no longer find. These days people prefer imported rice, bread and pizza. Our ancient indigenous grains and foods are no longer popular,’ says Ibrahima Thiam, president and CEO of Senegalese brand Allido Food.
This is the challenge he is set on overcoming through his enterprise, which aims to promote healthy eating with an emphasis on products that grow in Senegal. Through local agricultural production and processing, and by working directly with a network of women producers and cooperatives, he has set up a business whose aspirations go beyond financial gain and economic development.
Ibrahima Thiam wishes to change consumer culture and habits in Senegal, and to make indigenous foods the backbone of local diets again. This, he says, is far healthier, and will also allow Senegal to take back ownership of its food production, break away from import reliance and generate economic growth.
The business takes locally grown cashews, millet, maize, black eyed peas (known as niebe), moringa, baobab seeds and indigenous West African grains like fonio and attiéké and turns them into all-natural, nutrient-rich value-added products. These ancient, indigenous ingredients are widely recognized as superfoods and Thiam also uses them in Allido’s line of baby food. This, he says, will do wonders for infant health but will also go a long way in creating future consumer demand for local, healthy products.
But changing consumer habits will be no easy task. ‘The Made-in-Senegal and Made-in-Africa brands are not yet developed here, we still prefer what is imported,’ says Thiam. ‘We need to place the product and build demand. So we're starting a chain of restaurants so people can get a taste of the ingredients’ potential. I hope to inspire other entrepreneurs to copy this trend and create a market.’
Allido Foods works with the Netherlands Trust Fund V (NTFV) programme in Senegal’s cashew sector focused on sustainable agribusiness and business development through tech solutions. With ITC’s Alliances for Action initiative within NTFV, Ibrahima is leveraging programme support to scale up his business and marketing, and to explore new market linkages.
A no-waste philosophy
Allido also integrates a committed no-waste philosophy into its operations. Waste and derived materials are used innovatively to create other by-products for the market.
‘Food transformation creates a huge amount of waste that is not used here, or even treated,’ says Ibrahima. ‘We want to minimize as much waste as possible.’
At Allido, the leaves, bark, fruit zest, seeds, stone and flesh – everything is processed and repurposed into products like mango oil, mango butter, moringa soup, and baobab powder, for example. There is even a baobab coffee product on the shelves – a true innovation based on the fact that baobab seeds, which are normally discarded, contain a small amount of caffeine.
‘I realized that what you throw away is even more valuable than what you process,’ says Thiam. ‘The challenge is to find consumers in Senegal for these innovative products. People need to understand the whole story first.’
Allido has plans to develop a skincare and cosmetics line built from discarded food processing waste.
Rural women are the engine of the enterprise
Allido is also dedicated to the advancement of rural women in Senegal. Currently, the operation works with approximately 1,200 groups of women in rural areas for the collection of food waste and processing of ingredients.
‘They had a problem selling their agricultural products,’ says Thiam, ‘so we decided to invest in processing to make non-perishable products. For example, we take the tomatoes, process them, and sell them back to the communities for them to use so they have a locally grown and made product at an accessible price.’
Allido also invests in the professionalization of these women groups, as they are trained in processing techniques, quality standards and food safety management.
Today, the main challenge is to scale up processing infrastructure, as the raw materials exceed the processing capacity. Ibrahima is hoping to identify investment to create mobile processing units in Senegal’s rural areas to decentralize the production of processed food products and to contribute to rural development.
About the projects
The Netherlands Trust Fund V (NTF) (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 and agribusiness sectors. Its ambition is two-fold: to contribute to an inclusive and sustainable transformation of food systems, partially through digital solutions, and drive the internationalisation of tech start-ups and export of IT&BPO companies in selected Sub-Saharan African countries.
Alliances for Action is an ITC initiative that seeks to transform food systems through producer partnerships that cultivate ethical, climate- smart, sustainable agricultural value chains.