By Beatrice Philemon , The Guardian
Published at 09:00 AM Jul 06 2024
Youngwoong Kim (pictured), the managing director of Tan-Ko Mirae Green Co. Ltd
Photo: Beatrice Philemon
Youngwoong Kim (pictured), the managing director of Tan-Ko Mirae Green Co. Ltd

Recently, The Guardian newspaper had the opportunity to meet and interview Youngwoong Kim (pictured), the managing director of Tan-Ko Mirae Green Co. Ltd, about the cashew nut industry in Tanzania. The interview focused on what Tanzanian farmers, the government, and experts can expect from his investment in the country. Below is an extract of the interview.

QUESTION: Could you provide readers with a concise overview of your firm?

ANSWER: Tan-Ko Mirae Green Company Limited, a foreign entity fully owned by the Korean company Mirae Green Chemical Company Limited, specializes in producing cashew nut kernels, cashew nut shell liquid (CNSL) as an environmentally friendly bio heavy oil, and Biochar as a soil ameliorant. The company has successfully manufactured CNSL oil in Tanzania, catering to the substantial South Korean power plant market, along with exporting cashew kernels to various other countries. 

Q: Can you elaborate on the state of the cashew nut industry in Tanzania and define your market niche?

A: The cashew nut industry in Tanzania currently operates at a minimal value-added level, primarily focusing on cultivation.

Only 20 percent of the country's cashew nut production volume (approximately 300 thousand tons annually as of 2023/2024) undergoes local processing.

Our initiative involves elevating the value of cashew nuts in Tanzania by implementing automated processing facilities, aiming to enhance the industry's value chain significantly and contribute to its growth.

Q: What are the expectations from Tanzanian farmers cultivating cashew nuts and the government, and how does your company plan to meet them?

A: Our company is committed to aiding Tanzanian farmers and the government in elevating the cashew nut industry by implementing sustainable methods, leveraging advanced technology, and facilitating market entry.

We strive to cultivate a symbiotic partnership that enhances productivity, quality, and profitability for all parties. Specifically, we intend to invest in cashew nut production using Biochar and CFR fertilizers, aiming to enhance the yield and productivity of raw cashew nuts.

Q: Could you elaborate on the challenges and opportunities you've faced since starting operations in Tanzania?

A: Establishing and managing a business in Tanzania comes with diverse challenges. These obstacles can differ based on the industry, company size, and specific circumstances, but common hurdles include the following;

- Bureaucracy and Regulatory Environment: Navigating through intricate and time-consuming procedures to obtain licenses and permits, involving multiple government entities.

- Regulatory Changes: Frequent alterations in laws and regulations can sow uncertainty, necessitating businesses to continuously adjust.

- Infrastructure Issues: Substandard road conditions impede the smooth transportation of goods and services. For instance, sourcing raw cashew nuts has been arduous due to the poor road network, escalating transport costs and affecting the quality of the raw cashew nuts due to inadequate storage facilities.

- Power Supply: Frequent power cuts and erratic electricity supply disrupt business operations, leading to higher costs for backup systems.

- Access to Finance: Limited funding avenues; small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) often struggle to secure affordable financing due to strict lending criteria and high interest rates.

- Cultural Differences: Acknowledging and respecting local customs and business practices are vital for fostering robust relationships and trust.

Regarding opportunities, enhancing raw cashew nut productivity is feasible through the introduction of our Biochar and Controlled Release Fertilizer (CRF) products into the cashew nut industry.

These products will be trialed by us under a contract farming initiative involving selected farmers and NGOs.

- Biochar: A combination of biomass and charcoal, biochar serves as an eco-friendly soil enhancer, offering sustainable fertilization for a variety of crops.

Q: How do the services you provide set you apart from competitors in the market?

A: Our company holds the distinction of being the pioneering cashew nut processing firm in Tanzania, utilizing 95 percent of the raw cashew nut to enhance its value.

This process involves transforming the raw cashew nut into cashew nut kernels and extracting oil from the shells, subsequently turning the shells into biochar (cashew nut carbon flakes).

The extracted oil is exported to cardanol manufacturers, who utilize it to craft final products like bio-fuel for energy production such as bunker C fuel and brake linings.

Additionally, the biochar serves as an environmentally friendly fertilizer suitable for various crop applications.

Q: What are your business prospects domestically and internationally?

A: Our business prospects entail optimizing the production of value-added products, fostering and sustaining active support for the Tanzania-Korea relationship, driving growth in the Tanzanian cashew nut sector while benefiting all involved parties.

We aim to secure a reliable source and establish a strong market presence within our industry, enhancing growth through strategic product cultivation.

Furthermore, we seek to enhance trade conditions by expanding our trading capacity and achieving economies of scale.

As pioneers in Korean investment in Tanzania, we aspire to encourage more Korean companies to invest in Tanzania.

 Q: Could you specify your target markets and the current number of clients you serve?

A: Our focus for cashew nut kernels and CNSL (cashew nut shell liquid) primarily lies in the international market. Conversely, for Biochar and Controlled Release Fertilizer (CRF), we aim to cater to the local market to enhance raw cashew nut productivity.

Q: What is the future vision of your business in Tanzania, and to what extent is your company engaged in cashew nut farming, production, and export?

A: We procure raw cashew nuts (RCN) from local farmers in Tanzania, which we process into cashew nut kernels at our factory for exportation.

Through our operations, we generate revenue and reinvest in various ways, such as job creation and enhancing the livelihoods of cashew nut farmers and local stakeholders through different support initiatives.

Our vision entails expanding the cashew nut industry's value chain and pioneering transformative changes in Tanzania's cashew nut sector by strategically introducing our products (Biochar and CRF) to the market.

Looking ahead, we aim to establish a large-scale cashew nut plantation in Tanzania.

This initiative will not only bolster annual cashew nut production but also foster sustainable growth, offering economic advantages to the cashew nut industry, including farmers, stakeholders, processing facilities, and the Tanzanian government.

Q: Could you provide details about your career and experiences prior to joining Tan-Ko Mirae Green Co. Ltd?

A: Before assuming my role here, I dedicated 35 years of service to KOTRA (Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency), a Korean government institution.

During my tenure, I spent 15 years in various African countries such as Ethiopia, Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa, holding the position of Director General of Africa.

Following my retirement, I recognized Tanzania's significant potential in the cashew nut industry due to its high-quality cultivation and efficient trade port terminal system in Dar es Salaam.

Consequently, I made the decision to embark on this business venture with my colleagues.

Q: Describe how your family has supported you in your career.

A: My wife is my most supportive partner, always attentive and caring, her presence helps me manage stress and anxiety effectively.

 Additionally, my son has been instrumental in our business endeavors, serving as a troubleshooter to solve significant challenges in projects and factory operations.

 His insightful advice has not only saved us time but also optimized our budgets. I am genuinely grateful for their unwavering support.