“They say that if the DRC was developed, many African countries will follow, because the food potential we have here can feed the world.”
This is according to Benedict Mundele, a 21-year-old Congolese entrepreneur who wants to make a change in her country. She is the founder of Surprise Tropicale, an organic local food canteen and catering company that aims to promote a sustainable and healthy lifestyle in her community in the capital Kinshasa.
The idea came to her while studying hospitality and researching food produced in tropical environments. She was shocked to discover that the DRC imported so much of the food it should be producing in abundance. Furthermore, a lot of the food it does produce gets exported cheaply, processed in other countries, and sold back to the country at more expensive prices.
“Like mangos,” she highlighted. “Mangos are grown in tropical climates like the DRC. But we have mango juice sold in our country that comes from elsewhere where it is not tropical. It is very expensive and a lot of people can’t afford it.
“It was Congo’s food poverty that inspired me to do something,” she said. “We have the potential to produce many foods but it’s being wasted. And people are suffering because they don’t have anything to eat.”
Being the difference
Mundele was 16 when she started Surprise Tropicale, which began by supplying breakfasts to members of the Kuvuna Foundation, a youth skills empowerment and leadership organisation.
Today, the company produces its own organic snacks and meals, such as chips made from coconut or ginger. She also runs her own take-away outlet, and supplies produce to nearby shops. She only sells food produced locally and is hoping to promote a healthy lifestyle.
Her entrepreneurial vision and efforts led to her selection as an Anzisha Prize finalist last year, a competition that recognises young Africans who are using entrepreneurship to bring positive change to their community. She was also named one of the promising young World Economic Forum (WEF) ‘Global Shapers’ and was selected to attend the WEF on Africa, held in Nigeria, last year.
Tackling the challenges
But according to Mundele, her vision is far from complete and she is still struggling to overcome two major challenges. The first is a lack of consumer trust in locally-produced food and products.
“It’s difficult. In the DRC, and even across the rest of Africa, people think good things come from outside the continent. They don’t realise what we can create here can be even better. And it’s difficult to change that mentality.”
Another challenge is getting consumers to adopt a healthier lifestyle. For example, Mundele soon discovered most of her customers wanted less-healthy meals and sweets from her fast-food outlet. She started to sell these as a necessary source of revenue, but believes her take-away is partly a failure. “It does not allow me to reach my objective [of promoting health food],” she explained.
Part of the reason is that her outlet is positioned near a sports field, and most customers are looking for protein such as take-away chicken, rather than organic tropical fruit.
“I have now learnt I need to think more carefully about where I position my store, and what the needs of the customers are. Then I can better adapt my offering to their needs, as well as stay true to my vision.”
Mundele aim is to supply larger supermarkets, hotels and airports, where there is a stronger appreciation for organic and tropical foods.
Land of opportunity
“The DRC is not like other countries where you have incentives and programmes for young entrepreneurs,” explained Mundele. “It’s a huge country, and if you do something you could be pretty much on your own.”
However, her message to young Congolese is to stop waiting for solutions from western countries and start taking the initiative themselves. If they look around them, she noted, they will see there are still so many unexploited opportunities in Africa, and especially the DRC.
“I want young people to change their thinking and not to believe that it is better overseas. Because in the DRC and Africa there are more opportunities than anywhere else. It just needs hard work and concentration to capture these opportunities, and ultimately transform the continent.”