Superfood social enterprise Kuli Kuli has announced a partnership with the Clinton Foundation and a Haitian nonprofit, the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA), to develop a new moringa supply chain in Haiti. Earlier this month, Chelsea Clinton met with Haitian women moringa farmers.
Kuli Kuli produces a nutrition bar made from moringa oleifera, the most widely cultivated species of moringa — a multipurpose tree native to the Himalayan foothills in northwestern India. The bars are gluten-free, raw and made with just a few simple all-natural ingredients. They are low in calories and contain high levels of fiber, protein and vitamins.
Kuli Kuli claims to be the first to retail moringa food products in the U.S., sourcing it from women’s cooperatives in West Africa in an effort to help those communities move away from dependency on food aid and towards nutritional self-sufficiency.
“Moringa is one of the few plants that grows well with very little water and in poor soil,” Lisa Curtis, Kuli Kuli’s founder and CEO, told Sustainable Brands. “This makes it the perfect plant for Haiti, which has been in a drought for the past five years and has poor soil due to high rates of desertification and the after-effects of the hurricanes.”
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Moringa is one of the most nutrient-dense plants in the world with high levels of protein, iron, calcium, vitamins and antioxidants. The tree is important for vegetarians and rural farmers who cannot afford meat, as it contains the essential amino acids methionine and cystine, which are among the hardest amino acids for the body to acquire from plant-based diets.
Through Kuli Kuli's partnership with SFA and the Clinton Foundation, thousands of moringa trees will be planted throughout Haiti, which may offer a more sustainable income to hundreds of Haitian farmers.
The partnership came about during the Clinton Foundation’s search for self-sustaining development projects in Haiti, Curtis said. Although the country received $13 billion in aid after the 2010 earthquake, which killed more than 100,000 people, recovery has been slow.
At the Clinton Global Initiative Conference in 2010, the Timberland Foundation pledged to work with SFA to plant 5 million trees in Haiti over five years using an innovative community-based agroforestry model based on the idea of exit strategy aid. Part of this strategy was to find ways to make the tree plantings pay for themselves by helping the farmers sell the tree crops.
“The SFA approached Kuli Kuli about selling Haitian grown moringa in the U.S.,” Curtis said. “Together, SFA and Kuli Kuli approached the Clinton Foundation. They loved the idea and agreed to explore the possibility of developing moringa for export in Haiti, focused on providing women smallholder farmers with a sustainable income.”
The goal of this new partnership is to introduce Haitian moringa to the North American market, Kuli Kuli said in a statement. Just as it has done in Ghana, the company will work with local partners to ensure that moringa is grown and used locally while exporting a portion of the harvest to provide a sustainable livelihood to women moringa farmers.
Adding spice to the mix is renowned chef José Andrés and his non-profit organization, World Central Kitchen, which is working to introduce moringa to the American palate and advising on its application to improve nutrition in Haiti and other developing nations. World Central Kitchen is now collaborating with Kuli Kuli to promote a nationwide moringa recipe competition on Instagram, using the hashtag #MoringaInspired to raise awareness and support Haitian moringa farmers.
To date, Kuli Kuli has raised close to half a million dollars from investors, including $50,000 through one of the highest-grossing crowdfunding food campaigns of all-time, as well as an additional $350,000 in a crowdfunding equity campaign the following year. Investors such as Brad Feld, Mary Waldner (founder of Mary's Gone Crackers) and Derek Proudian (venture capitalist & founder of Papa Kona Coffee) have put their weight behind the social enterprise.
Kuli Kuli sold around $200,000 worth of bars in 2014, and already has surpassed that amount this year, Curtis said. The company expects to more than double in size by the end of 2015.
“We've also grown our distribution enormously,” Curtis said. “Our Moringa Superfood Bars and Pure Moringa Powder is currently distributed in 15 states and will be in 33 states by October. We just opened up a new investment round to help finance all this new growth.”
Kuli Kuli was founded with the vision of using moringa to improve nutrition and livelihoods worldwide through a self-sustaining, profitable model, according to Curtis. Now past the proof-of-concept phase, the company is ready to scale its model.
“The next six months are going to be a major proving ground for us as we scale up our supply chain to include Haiti and grow our retail presence to the Midwest and East Coast,” Curtis said.