Investor: The Real Opportunity in Africa Is Food Distribution Not Tech
Fledge and Africa Eats Founder Luni Libes Says Investing in Food and Ag is Essential for Eliminating Poverty
Devin: What is your superpower?
Luni: I can see paradigms. Most people, they live inside paradigms, and they don’t notice.
“Most people in Africa are farmers, and they’re poor not because they’re uneducated or any less intelligent than anyone else,” says Africa Eats founder and CEO Luni Libes. “They’re poor because no one buys their outputs. No one is buying what they’re growing.”
As an investor, Luni saw an opportunity to simultaneously address hunger and poverty in Africa while helping African entrepreneurs to grow and succeed.
“We just set it up so that we have companies that buy the outputs of these farmers—that and treat that food well,” Luni says. “That solves the post-harvest losses, and these farmers have an income.”
“Hate to say, ‘voila, that’s everything,’ but that is 90 percent of the problem solved,” he says.
There is mounting evidence that the holding company model he’s created for investing in the companies is working.
Before launching Africa Eats in 2020, the 2019 revenue for the companies was just under $7 million for the full year. The companies generated as much in the first quarter of 2023, suggesting the combined revenue has quadrupled.
The biggest of the companies is East Africa Foods, which garnered an investment from Luni’s accelerator, Fledge, in 2014. At the time, the company had just $100,000 in revenue. Last year, he says, revenues reached $10 million, up 100-fold in a decade.
All of the companies in Africa Eats participated in Fledge and garnered investments.
Luni credits a unique superpower for the impact he’s leading. He has the unusual ability to see the paradigms in which we operate. Most of us ignore or take for granted much of the context in which we live and work.
AI Podcast Summary
1. Africa Eats is a holding company that supports African-led agricultural enterprises.
2. The company buys the outputs of smallholder farmers and sells them to retailers.
3. The goal is to solve hunger and poverty in Africa through for-profit companies.
4. Africa Eats works with companies that solve the problem of post-harvest losses and buy the farmers’ outputs.
5. The company has seen a four-time increase in revenue since 2019 and now works with 114,000 farmers.
6. Africa Eats has grown companies like East Africa Foods and Hervé’s ag logistics company in Rwanda.
7. The creation of a food and ag logistics fleet is the first and only refrigerated trucking fleet in Rwanda; it has 14 trucks and growing.
8. African-based entrepreneurs find it challenging to secure funding for their businesses.
9. Africa Eats aims to become a public company listed on the London Stock Exchange, offering opportunities for shareholders.
10. Luni Libes encourages those interested in investing in Africa Eats to visit their website or follow them on social media.
How to Develop Seeing Paradigms As a Superpower
Luni highlights the venture capital paradigm as an example of one he sees that others miss. VCs routinely say their top three investment considerations are “team, team and team.”
Luni notes that isn’t the truth. VCs only get to consider the team after they’ve determined the opportunity is both large enough and requires enough capital to warrant that.
By seeing that paradigm and its flaws, Luni was able to see a way to use a different structure to create a financial opportunity and impact in Africa. He’s investing in food and ag on a continent that most VCs avoid, and those that do participate often invest in tech.
To help others, his students and the entrepreneurs who run the portfolio companies, he thinks of a lesson he learned while teaching at Bainbridge Graduate Institute (now Presidio).
“In order to make change, you have to show there’s a problem,” Luni says. “In order to show there’s a problem, you have to show what the framework is.”
By following Luni’s example and advice, you can learn to see paradigms. With practice, you could make that a superpower that enables you to do more good in the world.