Betting on a future “Made in Cameroon”
She thought it was a “crazy bet” at the time, but four years later, Gaelle Laura Zambou Kenfack has never looked back since starting a business to produce and sell “Made in Cameroon” items. “.
Zambou returned to Cameroon at the end of 2016 after 10 years working as a consultant for BMW in Germany, the former colonial power in this Central African country of some 25 million inhabitants, heavily dependent on imports.
Other business leaders like her are banking on the “Made in Cameroon” (MIC) brand, a concept officially launched by the private sector five years ago to promote local production, processing and consumption.
The aim is to overcome a long-standing weakness of the Cameroonian economy: the lack of “value-added” activities that create jobs and generate money beyond the activity of selling primary resources such as than minerals, petroleum and wood.
Stores labeled “Made in Cameroon” have already opened in several cities across the country.
“Five years ago, there was only one store dedicated to the MIC brand. We are now at 33 ”, specifies Carine Andela, president of a group calling itself the Association of Ingenious Entrepreneurs of Africa (Asenia).
Andela got into fish farming. Aquaculturists have so far imported much of their fry – juvenile fish – from neighboring Nigeria, but “what’s interesting is that some young people have started raising them themselves,” she says.
– “Not rocket science” –
In Biyem-Assi, a popular district of the capital Yaoundé, the company Kenza Market from Zambou was one of the first MIC companies to open. Spices, dried fruits and vegetables, vegetable oils for the skin or marinades line the shelves.
One of the flagship products of the store is “spicy salt”, a mixture of salt and several local spices. “Our concept is to promote MIFs by showcasing local products as this is what makes the economy grow,” Zambou said.
To ensure a regular supply of her shop, Zambou is in contact with a dozen local producers from whom she buys raw materials before processing them. She has another store in Douala, Cameroon’s main port and economic capital, and wants to open more stores quickly.
Samuel Safo Tchoffo, a former petroleum engineer, has also taken the plunge by creating his own company. Its pilot pumpkin seed shelling plant is located in Montée Jouvence, another popular district of Yaoundé.
“It took 27 years of research to get to this factory,” Safo says with a broad smile. The production line consists of a chain of 11 machines assembled to convey, shell and sort the pumpkin seeds, then press the almond to extract the oil.
“The machines are totally made in Cameroon, and we have made it a point of honor not only to transform the product locally, but also to show young people that it is doable – and that it is not rocket science”, explains Safo. , whose plant also produces low-fat soap and flour.
“I am interested in the virtues of this oil,” says client Juliette Mbango at a local fair. “I’ve heard of it many times. I came to buy it to find out for myself.”
– Challenges –
Despite all the public interest in MIC, management consultant Edith Laure Pokam argues that the label suffers from major handicaps.
“A lot of consumers are willing to buy what is made locally, but they have doubts about the quality,” she says.
The price is another obstacle. “The promoters of MIC products are not yet able to compete with imported products because the latter are cheaper.
Entrepreneurs are aware of the difficulties.
For Andela, the “Made in Cameroon” movement certainly has a future, but also has some fundamental problems, in particular for financing the purchase of machinery and raw materials.
“Political strength is what can make a difference,” Andela said. “Some people have yet to understand the stakes of what we do.”
rek / dyg / amt / nb / db / ri