Couple leave careers in France to launch African processing firm
T&M is based in a small village in rural Senegal. But its founders have big dreams of exporting their products and creating rural jobs. “When we first met, we both had a vision of returning to Africa to contribute to rural development,” Tina Ephraim says of the company that she and her husband, Moulaye Biaye, founded in 2019. They met in 2011 when they were students in Toulouse in the south of France.
Ephraim, originally from Ghana, has a chemical engineering doctorate and significant industrial experience. Biaye has a master’s degree in finance and applied mathematics. He worked as an investment banker in France for six years. “Based on our competencies, we realized there is so much potential in rural areas to engage in industrialization,” Biaye said. He grew up in a farming family in Senegal’s southern Baconding region. That background gave him a real knowledge of the agricultural products that come from the area.
When they started T&M, the main area that they wanted to focus on was valorizing (enhancing the price of) cashews. They knew that cashew nuts were generally being exported without value being added locally. Worse, in Ephraim’s mind, is the fact that about 90 percent of the cashew’s mass is unused and thrown away. She knew that juice from the cashew apple — a small bulbous receptacle that looks like a pepper — is delicious and nutritious. The juice has five times more Vitamin C than orange juice and contains a lot of magnesium. “It is considered a superfood,” she said.
Ephraim formerly worked as a technical director of a factory in France. She turned her engineering background to a pressing question: How to extract cashew juice in the most efficient, ecologically sustainable fashion and stabilize the juice. One of the reasons people weren’t processing cashews to make this higher-value product is that the juice ferments quickly.
Another challenge was removing the tannins — a chemical found in certain foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, wine, and tea — from the juice. Removing tannins is important for product storage stability and consumer acceptance. “For about two years, we developed a process of making the cashew juice.” Testing in the local market found acceptance of the product. “We realized there is a huge potential to industrialize the production.”
In 2021 they built a factory in the village of Baconding to produce and sell cashew apple juice on an industrial scale, under the Casadeliz label. They next turned their attention to mangos. “Eighty percent of the mangos we see around here are not even exported” due to an issue with flies that put parasites inside the mangos and prevents them from being consumed, she said. Those flies cause tremendous amounts of losses and agricultural waste. T&M wanted to find a way to process mangos to have as much value as possible.
They set up their factory in the village because they knew the area suffered from an exodus of young people who moved to larger centers due to security issues and a lack of opportunities. “That has a huge impact economically.” A 30-year civil war in the area from 1982 until 2014 devastated many families. “We felt a moral imperative to return and contribute to the boosting of the economy.”
T&M aims to contribute to the area’s socio-economic development by taking foods previously treated as waste and transforming them into value-added products. Biaye wants to avoid the Western world’s practice of locating factories in big cities, which results in rural depopulation. “We believe in a new African model … which puts a lot of emphasis on the campagnes (countryside), which is where you find the authentic culture of a whole country like Senegal. If you come to the campagnes, you see what the country is made of.”
“We really believe that we can champion this model. We are successfully doing it here; we would like to be able to copy it in other countries,” he said, naming Ghana and Ivory Coast as potential markets.
MEDA is partnering with T&M as it works to transform Mango nut waste into quality mango butter. T&M is receiving a matching grant to purchase a de-pulping machine, an industrial dryer, and equipment used to produce mango butter. Research has shown that the pulp from mango nuts contains fatty acids that are good for the skin and the hair, Ephraim said.
“We felt a moral imperative to return (to Africa) and contribute to the boosting of the economy.”
Balanta Cosmetics, another T&M brand, is working to extract these oils for use in the cosmetics industry. The cosmetics are sold in France and internationally, mainly via e-commerce. T&M pays 240 local women to harvest mangos within a 10 km radius of its factory. They are paid for each kilogram of fruit that they collect. A three-year project aims to employ 65 more women initially, and another 200 by the end of the third year. Women are generally under-represented in the mango value chain, she said.
T&M gets them to pick up mangos that fall every day so the nuts can be extracted before they become contaminated with flies. The issue of value add is “first of all an environmental one,” she said. Reducing fly populations in the zone will greatly increase the yield of commercial mangos.
Mangos collected by women are brought to the factory and cleaned so mango butter can be extracted from the nuts. Eleven staff currently work at T&M’s factory. The addition of a mango butter processing line will create three additional jobs. Ephraim hopes that employment from that line will grow to between 10 and 15 within three years. “The reason for that is, we are a research-oriented company,” Biaye said. “We start small, we prove the concept, and then we scale.”
There have been challenges along the way. A public perception that cashew juice is a fermented product is a problem in a predominantly Muslim nation, where alcohol is taboo. Others believed that drinking cashew juice would kill them. T&M spent two years ensuring that their product contained no alcohol and then a year working to change public perception. That included having Muslim leaders drink the Casadeliz product in public. Soon, the company had a different issue, keeping up with buyer interest. “There’s a lot of demand compared to the amount we are producing,” Ephraim said. “It’s been pretty positive, but we feel there is a lot we can do to reach as many people as possible.”
He said that T&M’s expansion strategy includes setting up similar facilities in surrounding countries such as Ivory Coast, Benin, and Ghana with local partners to produce its Casadeliz brand. T&M developed a mango juice formula last year, then started manufacturing and commercializing the juice in 2023 under the Casadeliz label. Production of cashew wine for export could be a long-term product, Ephraim said.
Sixty percent of mangos grown in Senegal are wasted because flies inject larvae into the mangos. Mangos that are exported to the Western world are inspected at the port. If even one mango fly is found, an entire shipment is rejected.
T&M has a mango pulp extractor in its factory to extract the mango nut (core) from healthy mangos. The mango nut is used to make mango butter that can be used in cosmetics. Balanta Cosmetics has five products, including hair shampoo and skin moisturizers. She also hopes to be able to produce renewable energy from husks of the waste cashew hulls and shells, using an anaerobic digester to make electricity. Her Ph.D. thesis was on that topic. “Ideally, we will be moving towards a zero-waste process,” Ephraim said.
The company promotes its products on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram accounts. Rather than the company name, it focuses on the Casadeliz and Balanta Cosmetics brands. Getting financing for expansion is a difficult challenge, Biaye said. Lenders charge 10 to 15 percent interest and require borrowers to pledge assets as collateral greater than the amount of the loan. For a $25,000 loan, a borrower would need to pledge $30,000 in assets, he said. “It’s quite a journey.” Bankers are not business-friendly, Ephraim said. “Entrepreneurship, for them, is high-risk and long-term, so for them, they don’t find an interest.” One of the challenges is that credit history information, commonly used in North America to assess a borrower’s creditworthiness, is not available in Africa, he said.