Read, Debate: Engage.

The Cameroon herbal tea girl

December 05, 2016
topic:Health and Sanitation
tags:#Anzisha Award, #Cameroon, #Diabetes, #Vanessa Zommi
by:Bob Koigi
Vanessa Zommi is not your ordinary girl. When her mother was diagnosed with diabetes when she was 17 years, she decided to do something about it.

She had lost her grandparents to the same disease and she had had enough. Aware how expensive and strenuous the treatment was, the now 21-year-old Cameroonian started exploring alternative cures until she bumped into the Moringa oleifera tree which set her path running on what has come to be a household name in herbal tea across Cameroon.

Moringa, a native plant of South Asia, christened the 'miracle tree' for its numerous nutritional and medicinal benefits, including curing hypertension, lowering blood sugar and curing inflammations, has been embraced by both conventional and alternative medicine.

Sourcing the leaves from farmers with a view to making tea for her diabetic mother, Vanessa realized that there were more Cameroonians suffering from the same condition but could not access conventional medical services.

Close to half a million adults live with some form of diabetes in this West African country, about 6 per cent of the population, with the disease having claimed 6500 adult deaths in 2013 alone according to the International Diabetes Federation. 80 per cent of those who suffer from the disease don’t know they have it, the Federation further states.

The disease has particularly taken a toll on the poor and rural population due to the proliferation of cheap processed foods and sugary snacks. Lack of information on the disease coupled with the prohibitive cost of health care makes early detection near impossible.

Treatment has equally been a tough sell for the majority of the population who even have to struggle with access to basic needs.

Aware of the sorry state of affairs, Vanessa decided to do something about it. She started by contracting farmers to sell leaves to her which she and a few of her friends rudimentarily processed into Moringa tea and packaged in tea bags.

It was a laborious and herculean journey that at times saw Vanessa almost give up, but the thought of the benefits her product was delivering to the population gave her more impetus to keep going.

She would later launch Emerald Moringa Tea, a specialist tea company which initially concentrated its operations in Buea region, the capital of the South West region of Cameroon. The herbal tea, operating under the brand name Afya Tea, Swahili for health, has become an instant hit and is sold in major areas of the country.

A 40gram sachet costs $2 but she hopes to bring the price down as production scales up. Vanessa’s business has equally expanded as she currently employs nine staff. She has also been working with smallholder farmers in encouraging them to embrace growing the miracle tree. She supplies them with seeds and also trains them in how to farm and make money from Moringa tree farming.

Her business has killed two birds with one stone, by also encouraging consumption of tea in a country that has traditionally shunned tea drinking. Regular tea drinkers stand at an average of 5 per cent according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, a narrative Vanessa hopes to change. She wants to grow the number to 40 per cent by 2025.

Her ultimate wish is to see the moringa tea distributed in especially poor places across Africa as a health supplement. News of the wonders of her tea has spread far and wide with orders coming from as far as Germany, USA, and Brazil, among other countries, even as she works on growing her capital to meet the burgeoning demand.

Her story hasn’t escaped the international eye. Her tenacity, business model and passion saw her recognized as one of the finalists in the 2015 Anzisha Award, a feat that seeks to recognize young African entrepreneurs who have invested in innovative solutions or are running successful ventures that are making a difference in their communities.

Her continental recognition saw her meet Cameroonian president Paul Biya.

An avowed advocate of supporting women entrepreneurs in Africa, Vanessa is positioning her business to inspire many more Africans, especially women, to embrace entrepreneurship while finding home grown solutions to local problems.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Close to half a million adults live with some form of diabetes in this West African country, about 6 per cent of the population.
A 40gram sachet costs $2 but she hopes to bring the price down as production scales up.
Call to Action
Sign the petition and help to ban the pesticide glyphosate!
Support now