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An Interview With Jean-Paul Nageri

An Interview With Jean-Paul Nageri

Jean-Paul is a Ugandan. He is the CEO and founder of Sio Valley Foods and Sio Valley Technologies.

Jean-Paul shares how his technology and invention have the capacity to increase the shelf life of fruits and vegetables.

Imagine what the price of fruits and vegetables exported through cold room infrastructure and flights would become if they were exported through oceans and ships!

This interview was hosted by the Founder of BizSkills Academy, Norman Musegimana; on the 13th of March 2021.

Greetings Everyone. Today we have a very great gentleman called Jean-Paul. Sometimes we use the French version because he speaks both French and English. I was very surprised to come across a Ugandan who speaks French as if he was born in Paris. Probably he will take us through how he came across through learning different languages and probably added any effect to the way he works around his businesses.

So, Jean-Paul is from Uganda. A very, very talented, passionate – I think one of the best people I have met on the platform so far. The reason why I said that is because one day some students were having challenges and then he woke up. As you can imagine, time in African is usually ahead of time in Canada. So, when I woke up someone has already made a video explaining to participants on the platform how to solve the problem.

I was like who’s this guy? And then I looked at the name, Jean-Paul. Jean-Paul, who are you? Where are you from? What do you do? And right there he keeps the note running, idea rising we all lived – probably close neighbors in Kenya when I was a refugee in Kenya. I think his parents were working somewhere in Kenya. He lived somewhere nearby where I lived.

So, keep the note running. After a very short period of time, I discovered that this guy has tremendous talent and a great heart. So, it’s my great pleasure to speak with Jean-Paul and to introduce Jean-Paul to you all.

Jean-Paul, you’re very welcome.

NORMAN

Thank you, Norman. It’s a pleasure to be here.

JEAN-PAUL

Thank you. So, maybe the best way to start is by allowing you to introduce yourself to people and to people who may want to know more about you. From probably among personal perspective than a business perspective.

NORMAN

Jean-Paul Nageri. I was born and raised in Dakar, Senegal. My parents are Ugandan. When they were living in Ugandan many years ago, my dad got an opportunity to work in the UN and was posted in Senegal. They basically asked him to learn French so they will post him there. So, he learned French and was able to make it through. So, he went with the entire family. That was about 28 years ago.

You know Dakar, Senegal, French-speaking country, we just fell in love with the culture and I was born there, studied there. I didn’t even know that I had an English background because I was born in a Francophone society. I was very Senegalese at that time. My parents speak English but it didn’t occur to me that time that I had any link to East-Africa until I was much older and they told me ‘you’re actually Ugandan’. I was like ‘Ugandan! What do you mean Ugandan?’ You know, I was born and bred a Senegalese. It was very difficult to connect with that side of my life.

I was basically born in Dakar, Senegal. I studied in French-speaking schools up to the point I was roughly 8 years old. Then, my parent decided to take me to an International school in Dakar called ISD. That’s when I started learning English and speaking the English language. That’s when I started connecting with my East-African roots. I started been known as a Senegalese-Ugandan. I grew up and at some point my… to come back to Ugandan. I think that was one of the hardest things I experienced to leave all I grew up with… back to my home to meet before I haven’t met before.

That was a tough blow we completely moved from Senegal to Uganda but before we came to Uganda we made a big stop in Kenya. So, I had the chance to study in some schools in Kenya as well. Just to make sure my English was similar to the Ugandan English. So, I slowly eased into the system of education in Uganda from Kenya. My parents had been living in Kenya many, many years before coming to Senegal. So, that’s the connection.

But I also had the chance to travel around and live in different African countries. I was in Ivory-Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, during the time my father was moving up and down for missions.

I was was to learn different languages and also how to connect with different people. That linguistic nature I have, I think I got it from meeting different people. I quickly adjust and learn different cultures and when you’re able to understand people, life moves smoothly. Those were the simple skills I learned. I also got bullied a lot because I couldn’t speak some of the languages so I had to quickly adapt and adjust and that helped me to survive and find my way around.

JEAN-PAUL

So, have you been able to go back to Senegal ever since?

NORMAN

It’s been a while. I haven’t had the chance to go back. God willing, I know I will be in a position to go back but it’s been quite a long time I’ve been on that side.

JEAN-PAUL

So, quite a fascinating story. Like I look at someone like you, I think you haven’t shared with me about the other countries. I knew about Kenya, Uganda, and Senegal. But it’s fascinating to hear your story and how you’ve been able to move around different countries. And I think it reflects in your personality and how you relate to people. I think I’ve been hearing different people on the platform talk about Jean-Paul – there are some people in Cameroon who have been talking about how you’ve been supporting them. We have some people, I think in Nigeria. We have Michel Tshuma in Zibabwe. Like, your life experience of how you grow up reflects also in what I have come to know about you for the few months I’ve had the opportunity to meet you. So, really really fantastic. So, with all these experience that you have, what’s one thing that scares you the most?

NORMAN

I think the one thing that scares me the most is not been able to live to my full potential. And I think the reason why I got into entrepreneurship is – when I was in Kenya- moved from Senegal. I remember my father left me in the house only. He left me for over two months. I was alone, I had to take care of myself. And bills kept coming – you know, I had to buy food. It’s like he just stopped supporting at some point. I was like what’s going on? You know, no money coming in and this thing hit my head and I was like there’s gonna be a way for me to survive. I can’t just die of hunger or something. My father actually did it intentionally. He wanted me to open that side of my brain and that was the fear of not being able to live to full potential and I quickly decided to start selling guitar scales to my neighbors and friends because I had that thing in me. I was so scared of you know, not being able to survive, not being able to live to full potential. What will it look like in a few days or months if I don’t get any help? There’s got to be a way.

The thing that scares me the most is not been able to live to my full potential. I always have to find a way to move through a difficult scenario even if there’s no one around me. I think mostly that.

JEAN-PAUL

Fantastic. I think that’s a good one. I think life is usually made up of the experiences we go through as we live through it. But also, I am someone who chooses to live with experiences rather than living with regrets. I would not choose to say ‘I wish I did that’ when I had the opportunity to try. So, I think that was fulfilling – that living to your full potential kind of narrative. I like it as a person and I also in some way I’m also like that. I think I try to fight so hard to see how I can maximize some of the qualities that I think I have. Because what else is living if you can’t live up to your full potential, right?

So, one of the other questions I have is someone like you might be having some really good qualities that you are very probably proud of or happy to be having that gift. What are some of the qualities that you look at and you go like ‘yes, I master you, I have you. You know?

NORMAN

I think humility. I am very humble. This is something I learned over time. I had the chance to be with successful people in businesses. One of the things I noticed is those people who are billionaires in USD, but you will never see it if you hang around these people you wouldn’t notice they have so much money. And so I learned over time that is good to be humble and not necessarily be too much but if you know a lot, it’s always good to listen to what others have to say. Have that openness.

I think Humility, openness. I’m always open to my guest. I’m always open to what people say and try not to take a hard stance on what someone is saying. If someone tells me something, I will ask ‘what do you mean by that?’ That’s an interesting point that causes me to ask a lot of questions. Some people don’t like me asking a lot of questions.

Another thing is – I think fearless. I’m fearless. I am taking so many risks. Even now, the project I’m doing is super-crazy. To be honest, I don’t have support from external founders or anything. It’s just here. All happening here.

JEAN-PAUL

I think sooner or later, you’ll cross that crazy bridge. I think there’s light at the end of the tunnel. And I think I am starting to see it because of someone with your qualities. Someone who works the way you work. Someone who takes nap during the day and works the entire night. You’re quite someone.

NORMAN

I think those are some of the qualities I have that make me outstanding.

JEAN-PAUL

There’s a thing that I’m wondering about and I think I’ve never asked you this. How are we lucky to have you on the platform? Because I look at the contribution you make to other young people. I look at everything, even your own project is quite humbling and unique in some massive project. How are we so lucky to have you on the platform?

NORMAN

I actually have a friend of mine who is also a young and budding entrepreneur. He’s also on the program. He sent me the link for BizSkills. He was like JP you need to apply for this program. I don’t care, just apply. We’ll start talking from there. I was a bit – not skeptical. Wait a minute let me do some research about this BizSkills. So, I went on Youtube and I found TeacherToolz. They had Hackathon. I think her name’s Ndane. I saw Ndane and her colleagues. And I was very inspired. They kept on talking about Norman, Norman. This person we can’t see. I was like this is interesting. Who is this Norman? I need to find out more about this Norman.

So, when it pulled through, I was looking around. Who is this person called Norman? So, when I saw you I was like wow! This is interesting. Who is this person called Norman? I need to find out more and I was not disappointed by all the things I heard on Youtube and it’s an amazing program. And I have learned so much from not only you but from all the different members on the platform.

So, it was basically my friend who’s also on the platform as well who connected me to – who invited me for the program.

JEAN-PAUL

I need to appreciate him. Have I ever talked to him?

NORMAN

Not yet but you will be seeing him around.

JEAN-PAUL

Make sure you do the introduction. I want him because you’re of those that when you’re around somebody you’re cheerful. You’re contributing, you’re making people exceed in value into what they’re doing. Open like their eyes. I really, really love having you around in all the meetings that we do, everything we do on the platform. That’s your contribution.

NORMAN

Thank you so much

JEAN-PAUL

So, can you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on?

NORMAN

That’s a really good question. So, I’m working on extending the shelf life of fruits and vegetables by creating an edible coating that is applied to these fruits. And what that does is that it slows down the rate of spoilage.

So, basically, I get materials from the skins of mangoes, oranges, bananas, and then I extract such a compound from them. And this compound I turn into powder which is blended in with some water and then this is then sprayed unto fresh produce and which creates a coating which slows down the rate of spoilage.

This is a bell pepper at 27 days room temperature. Normally, bell peppers don’t last longer than 5 days at room temperature. This bell pepper was coated with the solution I have developed. Which is made from the extracts of oranges, mangoes, and different other fruits. Here is another bell pepper that hasn’t been coated and has also spent 27 days. I don’t know if you can see the difference.

JEAN-PAUL

Very clear.

NORMAN

This is really showing that it’s still holding. This is 27 days at room temperature, with no refrigeration.

JEAN-PAUL

So, when you say room temperature in Ugandan standard, at what – is it like 20°C, 30, what?

NORMAN

I am talking between 27°C and 30°C 

JEAN-PAUL

That’s hot for us in Canada. We are talking about summer days.

NORMAN

Exactly. It’s really hot right now. So, we’re actually in a dry season right now. You can see this has shriveled and this is still going strong. I can say that I have extended to shelf life to at least 14 days when the bell pepper is intact. But these are just some of the samples that I have and I am running some experiments on other fruits. This is just to show you guys that this is working.

JEAN-PAUL

With that approach, what type of fruits can you work on? On vegetables for example.

NORMAN

This technology works on different types of fruits and vegetables because the mechanism of spoilage is the same. All fruits and vegetables lose water and oxygen gets in. The principle doesn’t change depending on the kind of fruits and vegetables. It works for all.

JEAN-PAUL

So, in your experiment what’s the highest number of days you’ve done and on what type on fruit for example?

NORMAN

Wow! I’m currently looking at an apple that has lasted for over 120 days. I think apples last long because of their nature. Apple doesn’t ripen the same way as other fruits. in other words, they ripen on the tree. You pick them when they are pretty much ready. So, they continue to breathe as time progresses. Unlike other fruits that are like a time bomb once you pick them that’s when the ripping process begins. So, for now, I have noticed that apples have an incredible shelf life. Orange as well. Oranges and apples are similar in nature in the way they’re structured.

JEAN-PAUL

So, that means like for fruit that stay longer on the tree, you can extend their shelf lives to 100 days.

NORMAN

Yes

JEAN-PAUL

And then for fruits which ripen very fast when they’re picked from the tress or the farms. How many days are you looking at for those types of fruits?

NORMAN

It also depends on so many other factors. Like you see bananas, for instance, have lots of enzymes inside them. And these enzymes also sort of accelerate the rate at which they go bad. So, some fruits have a higher percentage of enzymes and that also contributes to how fast they will spoil. So, you’ll find out bananas go bad very quickly. Avocadoes also go bad but not as fast as bananas do. But it also depends on the variety of fruits or vegetables. So, that also comes in but when we have tomatoes that have lasted for over 65 days. It’s just really incredible.

JEAN-PAUL

Over 65 days?

NORMAN

Yes, over 65 days. Here is a tomato that has lasted for over 65 days and here is its counterpart. I’m not sure if you can clearly see. Two days ago I actually explored matters. It’s firm, and at room temperature.

JEAN-PAUL

That’s fantastic. What does this mean for food security? For example for countries or parts of the world that access to food has remained a problem irrespective of the billions of dollars that have been spent to help people have equal or fair access to food.

NORMAN

What this does is that it actually solves the Sustainable Millennium Development Goal because, with this technology, I mean apples that can last for more than 3 months at room temperature; that means you’re getting into extra seasons, you know. A farmer can grow apples more times in a year as a result of this technology.

Furthermore, it also helps in the availability of food because the reason why there’s food insecurity is that food goes bad before you have the chance to enjoy them. Especially in terms of nutrition. You see, by being able to preserve the nutrient of this tomato after 65 days, for instance. That means such people in such areas can benefit from the nutrients of these fruits and vegetables from this much longer period of time. So, that means in terms of quality of life, their life will improve. Also, in terms of income, the income increase because they have a much-extended market. Market time frame. In order words, they can store these fruits and vegetables for a longer period of time. That means they’re not worried and they can get much higher prices. Instead of having to sell cheaply because they know it’s going to go bad anyway. Here, a tomato which is usually sold for USh 500, can sell at USh 2000. Because you know it’s gonna last for a long time. You’re not worried and there’s no pressure on the trader by middlemen that usually exploit them.

JEAN-PAUL

Does it mean that even people who live in areas that there’s no electricity can get preserve or conserve their fruits or vegetables for this time frame?

NORMAN

Yes. That means with this technology, we’ve completely removed the need for a refrigerator. So, if you’re in the desert, you can keep your produce fresh and lasting over a long period of time as a result of this.

JEAN-PAUL

I am thinking maybe actually, it will reduce the cost of food to the consumer because if a farmer can be able to conserve their food for a much longer period of time, it means they can reduce the cost or the price of maybe a kilo of tomatoes. Because they know very well that whatever they harvest can be sold during the season because they will live longer.

So, I am thinking maybe I suppose to bring more from a farmer’s perspective because they can make more money. They will sell more quantity for a much more longer period of time. The consumer will benefit from having access to fruits and vegetables over a long period of time at a much lower cost. Cos right now, there’s a lot of produce that goes bad on the farm after harvesting. It means you’re putting an end to that.

NORMAN

It works both ways. Like now veggies which are consumed regularly than the tomatoes. You’re right. The prices can be lowered to favor them. Also, they can get better prices from the vendors. The middlemen actually exploit them because usually, the middlemen come to buy very cheaply from these farmers and make them in bulk when they sell to the end-users. So, the farmer has strong bargaining power in terms of ‘hey, you used to buy these from me at a much lower price buy maybe now you can start adding a bit more because at the end of the day the final consumer gets it at this price. Then there’s room for better negotiations.

JEAN-PAUL

You also know that we have been talking about intellectual property. Can you tell us a little bit of how it’s going and where your headspace in respect to IP?

NORMAN

On BizSkills platform, I did a course called Ideation and I learned that every idea has a way to be protected and that’s called intellectual property. I learned about patenting. I decided to embark on the process of patenting. Basically doing a patent search that is to find out if the idea can be patented. And so currently, I’m working on drafting a patent document. A provisional patent document that will allow the idea to be protected in different countries. And what that does is that it gives me time to sort of finalize the solution and have at least between 10 and 20 years of commercial value without having any other potential competitors coming in and sort of trying to steal the formulation. But it mainly just protects the solution.

JEAN-PAUL

Thank you so much. Maybe my last question is; maybe if there’s a young person who’s listening somewhere in Africa about you, your story. I know probably everyone has ideas but people never really get to start or get the opportunity to maximize these ideas. Like if there’s someone who’s listening somewhere in African or around the world right now. What message do you have for them? What can you tell them? What piece of advice can you give them?

NORMAN

One thing I can tell them is; you see a problem, you must see answers coming through. So, the biggest advice I can give entrepreneurs in African who are planning to start is just to start. And no matter how difficult that problem may seem… just start. I got this solution in less than 5 months. I have access to resources, the internet, and my phone. Remove the idea of I can’t do this. Remove the notion of I can’t and change it to I can, I will. That’s when you start to see things much realizing.

When I started, you know people told me why are you wasting your time? The fruits are going to go bad anyway. It’s not going to work. I remember the first apple I started with… and when I put them side by side, there was almost no difference. In my mind I was like, I can do this and I’ll do this. As you move on your journey, you start to meet people who will support you and provide you with the guidance that you need.

JEAN-PAUL

Fantastic. Thank you so much, Jean-Paul. It’s been a pleasure having you and I think we need to have you probably another time. I still have more questions to ask you. So, I’m hoping we have the opportunity to do a second, maybe a continuation of this chat.

It’s been a very good pleasure hosting you and it’s been really great working with you on your project, on the platform. And there are no better people to work with other than people who are gifted and are talented and passionate about what they do. Thank you so much for being part of this journey that you’re on BizSkills. People like you are an asset to the work we do and how to do it. Thank you so much.

NORMAN

Thank you so much, Norman…

JEAN-PAUL.

You can watch the interview on youtube

Read about Jean-Paul’s view on the BizSkills Academy Ideation Course.

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