Biotropical realises its dream of organic farming in Africa
Biotropical’s aim is to organise the production and export of organically farmed fruit from Cameroon. With a turnover of EUR 650 000 in 2009 and around 60 jobs created, the company has become one of the leading organic fruit exporters in Africa with the help of I&P Développement. It has high hopes for the future and is banking, in particular, on the emergence of an organic farming industry in Cameroon.
The consumption of exotic fruit on the European market (two thirds mangoes and pineapples) keeps on rising. This fruit is mostly imported from India and Latin America, however, due to the lack of a production and marketing network in Africa. Trained as an agronomist, Jean-Pierre Imelé set up Biotropical in 2000. His goal is to establish a production chain and export organically farmed fruit from Cameroon. Very active in militant organisations supporting the development of organic farming, Mr Imelé is also an expert at the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and a director of the Europe-Africa-Caribbean-Pacific Liaison Committee for the promotion of horticultural exports.
Biotropical produces and markets mostly mangoes and pineapples in the form of dried fruit and pulp for the European market. It has ten production sites, the largest of which is in Nkombé, 45 km from Douala, where there is also a drying facility with a biomass oven.
I&P Développement acquired a stake in Biotropical in 2007 to support the company’s efforts to achieve growth and secure supplies of raw materials. This backing enabled Biotropical to finance the cultivation of orchards (400 hectares, of mango trees mostly) and the installation of a processing and packaging facility in new premises.
Thanks to this assistance, Biotropical was also able to hire a deputy managing director – an agribusiness expert – to develop the management tools and organise production, human resources and quality control. This recruitment has enabled Jean-Pierre Imelé to focus on his core skills, the agricultural and plantation aspects of the business: “Thanks to I&P, the company is receiving not only financial and management support but also benefits from access to an international network of specialists”, he explains, adding that “their involvement has helped Biotropical to get off the ground and unleash its potential.”
A turnover of EUR 650 000 in 2009
A loss-making company when I&P became a shareholder, Biotropical made a profit at the end of 2009. With a turnover of EUR 650 000, Biotropical is now one of Africa’s leading exporters of Ecocert-certified fresh fruit and pulp (Ecocert is the most important label in Europe for organic produce). To retain its certification, production methods, traceability and production procedures are checked at least twice a year.
Starting with 32 employees in 2006, Biotropical now has 65 full-time staff and 140 seasonal workers (compared to about 20 in 2006). Some have become shareholders and all are covered by a supplementary mutual health insurance scheme. Furthermore, Biotropical is the sole employer in the village of Nkombé, employing mostly women, who were previously out of work. A staff canteen on the main site and accommodation close to the plantations are currently being completed. Jean-Pierre Imelé also hopes to be able to develop an in-house programme leading to a qualification in organic farming, which is a weak link within the industry.
A bright outlook
With an eye to sustainable economic development, there is considerable scope. Priorities include expanding the area under production; developing the production plant, with the emphasis on alternative energy sources (photovoltaic, biomass, biomethane, etc.); contributing to the emergence of a mango industry in Cameroon; seeking ethical, environmentally responsible finance; and promoting agricultural training for employees.
About I & P Développement
In 2002, Patrice Hoppenot, the co-founder of BC Partners, one of Europe’s leading financial investors, set up the investment company Investisseur & Partenaire pour le Développement (I&P Développement) to invest in West and Central French-speaking Africa alongside SMEs (generally small or start-ups) and microfinance institutions (MFIs). Its role is to support the development and fulfil the potential of enterprises, thereby contributing to the emergence of a sustainable private sector that creates jobs but also of an entrepreneurial spirit.
Apart from injecting capital into targets and a region that are generally neglected by investors, I&P Développement seeks to provide entrepreneurs with practical assistance in managing their enterprises and supports them in all their important strategic decisions. The company does this thanks to close monitoring by its experienced investment directors and the involvement of its network of experts in the companies in the portfolio on an ad hoc basis.
Since 2006, the EIB has invested in I&P Développement alongside Proparco (the investment subsidiary of Agence Française pour le Développement) and some 20 private investors. It has also made funds available for technical assistance to support companies in the portfolio via consultancy and capacity building assignments.
As at June 2010, I&P Développement’s portfolio, covering 27 companies and MFIs with a total workforce of 1 399, was worth EUR 10 million. The MFIs supported by I&P have provided loans to 32 592 microenterprises.