Entrepreneur Helps Create Fair Trade Company Using Superfood

Hunger is a problem throughout the world. Many countries deal with the cloud of malnutrition and the impact it has on daily lives and developing countries. One superfood and company aims to help reduce the power malnutrition has on places like Wes Africa.  Lisa Curtis, founder of Kuli Kuli, has harnessed the superfood known as moringa. Kuli Kuli is a company with a mission – helping to build Fair Trade 2.0. We had the opportunity to sit down with Lisa and learn more about his history, the company, and where she sees the business going in five years.

Tell us about your background and why you started your business.

I began working on Kuli Kuli while in the Peace Corps in Niger, West Africa. As a volunteer in my village’s health center, I gained a first-hand understanding of the common nutritional challenges faced in West African villages and how moringa can play a role in helping to address a few of those challenges. Kuli Kuli sells delicious moringa products in the US that help improve nutrition and livelihoods in West Africa where the moringa is sourced.

Prior to Kuli Kuli, I served as the Communications Director at Mosaic where I managed a team of six to grow the company from zero to over $5M invested in solar through Mosaic’s online marketplace. Previously, I wrote political briefings for President Obama in the White House, served as a United Nations Environment Programme Youth Advisor and worked at an impact investment firm in India.

Tell us about your business and what makes it unique.

Kuli Kuli adds an innovative expansion to the Fair Trade model. Instead of sourcing a crop that has little nutritional value (coffee or chocolate) to the local community, we are sourcing a superfood proven to reduce malnutrition – moringa. Kuli Kuli is building Fair Trade 2.0, a way for consumers in the U.S. to gain access to superfoods while encouraging farmers in the developing world to grow and utilize more local nutritious plants. By carefully managing our supply chain to source only a portion of each harvest for Western consumption and by paying fair wages, we can ensure that superfoods like moringa benefit those who need them the most.

How did you come up with your business name?

When I was living in Niger, on a diet of limited fruits and vegetables, I began experiencing early signs of malnutrition — a condition that affects over 18 million children across West Africa. Then a friend told me about moringa, a local tree with highly nutritious leaves. She handed me a bag of kuli-kuli, a Hausa food made from peanuts, to make a delicious, nutty moringa dinner. I incorporated moringa into my diet and began to regain my strength. Upon returning to the U.S., I worked with my childhood best friend, Valerie Popelka to create the first prototypes of what became Kuli Kuli Bars.

What's the mission of your company and how has that driven the company?

Kuli Kuli's mission is to provide everyone who wants to access the nutritional power of moringa with the knowledge and resources to do so. All of our products are made with moringa, one of the most nutritious plants on the planet, and nourish your body as well as the communities of West Africa where the plant
is sourced.

Kuli Kuli is creating an international market for moringa to improve the livelihoods and health of women in West Africa. Moringa is an abundant local superfood that thrives in hot climates, but few people benefit from it. While this “miracle tree” is packed with protein, essential amino acids, 27 vitamins and 46 antioxidants, its rarely eaten and is viewed as a low-value crop. I started Kuli Kuli to change this. Kuli Kuli sells Moringa Superfood Bars and Organic Moringa Powder in the US made with moringa imported from West Africa. We support farming cooperatives that teach women to grow, process and incorporate nutrient-rich moringa into their families’ diets, reducing malnutrition. We import a portion of the moringa to the US for our bars, creating an international market for moringa and a livelihood for our farmers. Many of the women we work with make 5 -10x the average income in their region. We pay a 10% premium for our moringa which our nonprofit partners use to improve nutrition locally.

Where do you see the business in the next 5 years?

Kuli Kuli will be the leading provider of unique superfood products, starting with moringa. We will work with women’s cooperatives all over the world to drive sustainable growth and agricultural development. Our non-profit arm will invest heavily in nutritional education and rejuvenate nutrient-rich food sources as a tool for nutritional security. The Kuli Kuli brand will inspire other companies to rethink their own brands and push for social innovation through powerful, thoughtful branding. Kuli Kuli will find innovative ways to drive sales online and succeed in the digital space. We will develop a new kind of media presence that connects people across wide distances and changes the way that people in need are perceived. A new generation will imagine a world without hunger.

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