Friday, December 19, 2014

Mohamed Ali Niang, Rice for Africa's hungry

The people in the African nation of Mali eat rice -- as much as they can get. But it's not enough to meet their nutritional requirements. Business lesson 101: Observe a need and meet it. That's what Mohamed Ali Niang, 24, a recent Temple graduate, and his brother Salif, 28, did when they set up Malo Traders LLC, a business to produce and sell fortified rice in their home country

Mohamed Ali Niang, Rice for Africa's hungry

The people in the African nation of Mali eat rice -- as much as they can get. But it's not enough to meet their nutritional requirements. Business lesson 101: Observe a need and meet it. That's what Mohamed Ali Niang, 24, a recent Temple graduate, and his brother Salif, 28, did when they set up Malo Traders LLC, a business to produce and sell fortified rice in their home country.

"It has to be beautiful, clean and tasty," said Mohamed Ali Niang, back to visit his professors at Temple University in November.

The brothers grew up in a middle class household in Mali. Given that their father, who worked as an economist in food security, had the best job in his extended family, there will still many mouths to feed, making them acutely aware of the problems of hunger and malnutrition. A farmer might earn $500 a year.

"Whether you are rich or poor, everyone is suffering from anemia," Mohamed said. "It's across the board."

Their motives are more than nutrition. When there's not enough to eat, "that can cause riots and chaos," Salif said.

In his entrepreneurship class at Temple, Mohamed came up with the idea to mix fortified rice into the regular rice that Mali parents provide for their families. By the end of a meal, the rice would provide 50 percent of an adult's daily vitamin needs. They also wanted to figure out a way to pay the farmers more per kilo -- an effort helped by their father's interests in alternative farming.

"The ultimate idea is to sell fortified rice at a cheaper price than imported and locally grown non-fortified rice, boosting output, improving quality, and helping Mali maintain political stability by meeting the basic nutritional needs of its citizens, creating jobs, and turning it into the rice-exporting country that it should be," the brothers wrote in a business competition pitch.

The question was how to produce the fortified rice -- obviously more expensive -- at a price that could be afforded. Much rice is lost in storage, due to moisture and rodents. They decided to use technology to improve the storage, cutting waste and therefore being able to apply that money to fortifying the rice. 

The brothers were mentored by Jaine Hall, director of Temple University's Innovation and Enterprise Institute. She said they were able to get funding more than $100,000 in initial funding. They entered college business bowls around the country, winning 14 out 17 competitions. Two philanthropies gave them grants of more than $100,000. So far, she said, they have managed to bring the price of the fortified rice down far enough to match conventional rice. Now it's a matter or creating a market and increasing capacity.    

 Mohamed speaks about his company on a TedxTemple U video.  

Jane M. Von Bergen Inquirer Staff Writer
About this blog

Jobbing covers the workplace – employment, unemployment, management, unions, legal issues, labor economics, benefits, work-life balance, workforce development, trends and profiles.

Jane M. Von Bergen writes about workplace issues for the Inquirer.

Married to a photographer she met at her college newspaper, Von Bergen has been a reporter since fourth grade, covering education, government, retailing, courts, marketing and business. “I love the specific detail that tells the story,” she says.

Reach Jane M. at jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

Jane M. Von Bergen Inquirer Staff Writer
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