Driven by passion, at 21 years old, Aldred Dogue started Africa Foods Mill, a company that purchases local agricultural produce from smallholder farmers in Cotonou and transforms it into packaged convenience foods. Aldred cultivated an interest in agriculture from his childhood. Born and raised in Benin, Aldred had no idea he had a passion for agriculture until he attended a school where they practiced agriculture as an extra activity. “My interest in agriculture came when I was a child. At the primary school that I attended, we planted maize and cassava as an extra activity, and not as something that was part of the curriculum. I enjoyed this particular activity and it was only later that I realized just how much of an impact these agricultural activities had on me.”
Africa Foods Mill sells its products directly to supermarkets in the area. The company’s product line has expanded from pre-cooked cabbage, carrots, and green beans, to beetroot, spinach, and mixed vegetables. During his time in university, Aldred started to interact and work with smallholder farmers, and it was only then that he became aware of the challenges that they were facing – post-harvest loss. So a big part of starting his business was centred around bringing a solution to the challenges that a lot of smallholder farmers face in Benin. Currently, they are working with 4 co-operatives consisting of 300 smallholder farmers. This has positively impacted his community, which is a big win for Aldred. It has always been his desire to help his community at a grassroots level.
The greatest inspiration for Aldred has been business magnate, Aliko Dangote with his business acumen and multiple business enterprises, especially those that are centred around agriculture. He has learned patience from Dangote in building up to where he is today. With patience and hard work, he knows he too can achieve greater heights. His first $30 to start the business came from his parents, with support also coming from his friends who helped him in the beginning when he couldn’t afford to hire people.
Aldred’s entrepreneurial journey has not been without its challenges. Initially, there were no cold storage units to store the products so they had to be taken straight to the supermarket. The challenge came when there was surplus product and he had to ask his family to take it off his hands so there wouldn’t be wastage. The company had plans to export to neighbouring Nigeria and Europe, however, the effects of the pandemic compelled them to review this plan. Besides working on acquiring more equipment for production, he is currently working on producing chilli powder for export. Long term, Aldred plans to have the company process up to 6,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetable sourced locally.
Aldred strongly believes in trust-building in any business relationship. He encourages anyone who wants to go down the entrepreneurial path to look at how they can create value for people in their community to alleviate existing challenges. “There are lots of challenges that need solutions. Focus on bringing a solution to those problems, and the entrepreneurial journey will be more fulfilling.”