Updated: Aug 16
There are many different theories and ideas surrounding decolonising technology and operational systems. But what can be done in practice? Naomi Mwasambili gave us a new perspective in her provocation.
Naomi started by describing Tanzania as “the home of my heritage”. She spent 14 years of her life travelling back and forth between there and the UK, working on a range of projects and supporting different people. During the pandemic, working remotely suddenly became a much more viable option, so she finally made the move to go and live in Tanzania permanently.
Part of this decision was motivated by the need to connect, give back, and develop more sustainable projects there. Along with her family, Naomi has now set up Livy Africa, an organisation that works to develop value addition within the local community, via the supply chain of different raw products that are produced in the African continent. This provocation focuses specifically on cocoa and its value chain.
A ‘value chain’ refers to the activities that a business or organisation undertakes in order to take a product from conception, all the way to the end consumer. So for cocoa, this would include activities such as farming, processing, packaging, and shipping. In current food systems, most of the value is reserved for the wealthiest in the chain, which means that those who farm cocoa beans get relatively little value out of it.
Part of Livy Africa’s goal is to make others aware of the entire value chain. It’s important to understand where on the chain the industry knowledge exists, and the true processes required to add value equitably along the entire chain.
A ‘value chain’ refers to the activities that a business or organisation undertakes in order to take a product from conception, all the way to the end consumer.
A lot of what the general public know about this is down to advertising: often Naomi hears people praising popular chocolate brands, saying that in the production of their bars, they work to put an end to child slavery. The impact of this shouldn’t be minimised, but when you look at how the company operates their chain as a whole, it becomes clear that the messaging around child slavery really is just an advertising campaign — it’s important, but it doesn’t give any insight into the chain as a whole.
Chocolate brands will buy cocoa beans and immediately export them to Belgium where the chocolate is actually made. This means the value is added in Europe, and not at the source of the beans. So, the majority of chocolate companies teams are based in the global north, yet the advertising is centred around how they’ve supported the cocoa bean farming community.
In actuality, many cocoa farms in Tanzania are family-owned, and so rely on their children to gain an understanding of cocoa bean farming, and eventually inherit their businesses. Unfortunately, a lot of children and young people aren’t interested in cocoa, and are venturing into cities to generate income there instead. The children and young people have land rights to these farms; Naomi explained that if value addition was taking place in these villages, employment opportunities would be created for them there, and they would be able to keep the farms going.
At this point, Naomi posed two questions:
How can we shine light on value chains, and get a better grasp of their importance?
How can we decolonise a process?
‘Decolonising a process’ is not really possible — colonisation has taken place already. Rather, we should seek to develop new processes. This might look like working with different people at different stages of the value chain to ensure they have the knowledge of where their products can go, and how it can create value for them. This means allowing them the same access to the market that everyone else has.
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Currently, easy access to the market is reserved for the global north: after looking into it, Naomi was surprised at how straightforward it is to set up a chocolate business in the UK. You can order all the equipment on Amazon and it will arrive in no more than two days; you can spend hours looking at YouTube tutorials with your cheap, unlimited access to the internet; you can acquire packaging quite easily. Whereas in Tanzania, ordering equipment could take up to twelve weeks, and there are customs charges. Mobile data plans are also much more expensive. So overall, setting up a chocolate business in Tanzania is more complicated, and more costly.
Part of the difference is also in culture: entrepreneurship and learning new skills is very much encouraged in the UK, but the majority of young people in Tanzania are taught to look for a job that doesn’t really exist at the end of the road.
Naomi wrapped up by asking: how can we use cacao as a means of creating alternative ways of working? Cacao is clearly a valuable raw product — but how can that value be made available to the young people growing up in Tanzania, and how can it be used to unlock an alternative future for them?
To find out more about Naomi’s work and Livy Africa please watch this video.