When Joanna McBride first started this venture of speaking to local businesses, she asked the Mission Regional Chamber of Commerce for suggestions on who might like to participate. They immediately forwarded her the contact information for Ayissi Nyemba from Emkao Foods.
I picked up the phone and through our brief conversation, I encountered the most fascinating story.
She is a woman, an immigrant, a Mission resident, an entrepreneur and a CEO. She is educated, worldly and determined to not only help her family back in Cameroon, Africa, but also to represent them.
Ayissi grew up in France, yet moved to Canada in 2013, spending two years in Montreal attempting to complete her Masters degree before making the move to BC.
Her family has been in the cocoa bean industry for six generations.
Seventy-five per cent of cocoa beans come from Africa. The trouble with this particular profession though, as I recently discovered, is that selling to local markets is hardly sustainable. Unfortunately only two per cent of purchase profit goes back to the farmer.
This works out to approximately $200 per month, and in some cases, even less. Grievous as this may already seem, it often results in a lack of funds necessary for expenses related to production, harvest and shipping.
“I watched how unfair this was to my family” Ayissi tells us, “but I also realized how unfair it was to the customer as well.”
In today’s day and age, people are becoming more aware and concerned about where their food comes from.
It didn’t take long to discover that no one was processing cocoa beans in BC. All supply came directly from China, the US and Europe. There were no local manufacturers.
Ayissi was determined to change the ways of unjustifiable. Knowing the cocoa bean farmers would ultimately halt harvesting if they continued to receive unfair pricing, Ayissi started a cocoa bean import company with a fair-trade agreement in place and long term growing contracts with local village farmers.
She set her sights on Mission and made the move to get involved directly with the small business community.
“We chose Mission because it is in the heart of the Fraser Valley. It is a growing area and is very supportive to local business startups” says Ayissi.
Emkao Foods imports premium quality, organic cocoa beans directly from Cameroon, and as she imports directly from her own family, Ayissi has full control over the product quality.
It hasn’t been easy though. Ayissi successfully raised over $500,000 to build the factory and purchase equipment. She spent the better part of the last five years navigating government policy, building her brand, fundraising or in construction.
“Everyone is so excited to be a part of this venture,” she beams. “I was in the process of planning my grand opening.”
Now, unfortunately, specific equipment has not arrived. They wait. Workers are afraid to come in and are either house-bound or working minimal hours. They can’t start production, as they can’t open and there are still bills to pay.
Luckily, she received her batch of cocoa beans prior to our shut down and the next harvest is not due until September.
“I think we can all learn from this if we stick together,” she says.
Her family in Cameroon is safe though and Ayissi is focusing on the positive.
Her goal, moving forward, is to be the most sustainable and ethical cocoa beans processor and chocolate ingredients supplier in all of Canada.