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The sweet smell of success in Madagascar

Entrepreneurship

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Specialising in spice

Mihanta Malala Randriantsoa, the owner of a spice and essential oil export business, is a firm believer in upskilling local staff and suppliers, and her strategy has paid off.

In 2004, Mihanta Malala Randriantsoa co-founded Jacarandas, a Madagascan company that exports spices and essential oils. Its biggest-selling products are cinnamon, Madagascan wild pepper, pink peppercorns, cloves, geranium leaves, ginger and turmeric. Randriantsoa, now managing director of the company, set out with a clear strategy in mind: to focus on quality and to empower women. “Competition is fierce and winning customers’ trust isn’t easy. You have to stand out from the crowd,” she says. Today, the company exports 700 t of products – 600 t of spices and 100 t of essential oils – and has an annual turnover of €2.5 million.

Randriantsoa’s recipe for success is to employ a highly skilled workforce. Her 250 staff – 230 of whom are women – complete around 30 training courses every year. The company also delivers training to the 3,500 producers from whom it sources its ingredients. The idea behind this strategy is to compensate for low levels of educational attainment among the company’s workforce – 80% barely finished primary school. A quality expert at Jacarandas teaches staff how to count, add, work out averages and yields, and use calculators. They also receive training on hygiene standards, as well as best practices for collecting, sorting, drying and packaging produce. “Employees need to be able, for instance, to calculate how long and how many workers it takes to produce a given quantity of product,” explains Randriantsoa.

The company also employs four agronomists who train farmers on how to increase their output, covering topics such as how much seed and fertiliser to use, and what yield they can achieve from their land area. Every product undergoes microbial analysis as per international standards and this emphasis on quality has earned Jacarandas the trust of more than 40 clients in Europe and South America, including French cosmetics giant L’Oréal and fragrance companies in Grasse, a French town widely considered the home of perfume-making.

Achieving excellence also requires investment in infrastructure. In 2015, the company built a new essential oil distillery that meets international standards. The facility has three stills and an extractor, and operates for 1 month each quarter – enough to cater to demand. “It’s a promising development because it means we have more control over product quality,” says Randriantsoa.

In 2017, the business owner won the under-40 entrepreneur National Industrial Development Bank award. The panel said Jacarandas’s growth over the past 13 years “mirrored its young director’s dynamism, ambition and pioneering spirit”. Randriantsoa is now working on other projects that tie in with her business. She has opened a new botanical garden for tourists and plans to set up her own spice plantation.

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