Entrepreneurs

Manuel Jose Rodrigues: Creating Just Business Opportunities for Small Scale Farmers

Manuel Jose Rodrigues

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.

Spiffy here! I’m back with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only Interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Manuel Jose Rodrigues, Managing Director of Matswani Capital and Escolha Do Povo (The People’s Choice). Let’s see what he is doing to end hunger, and make a positive impact in the world.

Spiffy: Welcome Manuel, I’m really excited to hear about your work! Can you tell me what challenges you’re addressing?

Manuel: Thank you for inviting me to speak with you, Spiffy. In Northern Mozambique, we have created a partly self-sustainable micro economy by establishing an integrated poultry farming project. The projects create business opportunities for small scale farmers and guarantee a market for their products. To date we have a database of 55,000 maize farmers, 14,000 soya farmers and 7,000 chicken farmers. 

Escolha Do Povo strives to meet local demand through local poultry farmers

Escolha Do Povo strives to meet local demand through local poultry farmers

Photo from EDP Mozambique

Spiffy: I see! And what motivated you to hone in on agricultural business opportunities?

Manuel: When I first started the project, the area was destitute. During the due diligence process, one particular lady that I visited welcomed me into her self-built house and insisted that I stay for lunch. A simple meal (boiled sweet potatoes) was provided with such tenderness, and it was that moment I knew I needed to make this project work. Many of these small-scale farmers did not have direct access to the market. “Middle-men” usually purchase the agricultural produce from the farmers and sell them at a very high margin. We built aggregation centers in their villages where farmers could deliver their products and we would transport them back to our factory. In 2020, we purchased two million kilograms of maize and 1.3 million kilograms of soya.

Spiffy: How would you say that you’re working to make the world more equitable?

Manuel: That woman’s simple boiled sweet potato ignited the project that led to an $8.5million investment. This has improved the lives of approximately 1.2 million beneficiaries, including the farmers, direct families of farmers, their laborers, and the laborers families. Some farmers had exponential growth and have now invested in irrigation systems and tractors.

Spiffy: Can you tell me about a project you’ve started that exemplifies the impact you’re striving to make?

Manuel: In 2019 we were awarded a grant of $1.5 million for soya development in the country. This grant allowed us to build a soya extruder plant to process the beans that the farmers were producing. This investment was justified by the number of people for whom this created a business opportunity. We have also worked with many NGOs in Mozambique to provide training to 14,000 farmers, 83% of whom were female, on the production of soya cake.

Spiffy: What would you say is the one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

Manuel: Business is about everyone having a slice of the pie. Conventional corporations focus on controlling the full value chain to maximize profits. However, in order to build a big business, you need to develop other businesses around you to support the growth of the big one. Nobody grows alone.

Spiffy: Before we sign off, Manuel, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

Manuel: When I first started this project, many people told me it would not work. Seven years later I am amazed at what we have achieved in a very difficult environment and would like to share the idea/message with others. This is a sustainable and scalable blueprint. This is a classic example of where business can do good and play a positive role in changing the world. If anyone wants to contribute or get involved in our project in Mozambique, or if there are partners who would be interested, I would like to get into contact with them. Here’s a great introduction to our work.

Spiffy: Sounds great, Manuel! I wish you and the farmers that you collaborate with, the very best and much success. It’s been an honor speaking with you!

Manuel Jose Rodrigues became the Managing Director of Escolha Do Povo (The People's Choice) at the age of 27. In these past seven years, Manuel has created business opportunities for over 80,000 farmers in rural Mozambique in the production of maize, soya and poultry. (First published on the Ladderworks website on May 19, 2021.)

© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Ladderworks

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