Vanessa Zommi, 21, is a Cameroonian entrepreneur looking to stem the plague of diabetes in her country through her brand of tea, the Emerald Moringa Tea. After losing two grandparents to diabetes and following her mother’s diagnosis with the disease, Zommi began to look for a cheap and natural remedy for diabetes.
She conducted extensive research and discovered that moringa leaf, which has about 40 antioxidants, was effective against various types of diabetes because it reduces blood sugar levels. It also provides dietary supplements and boosts the body’s immune system. Zommi then decided to package the leaves in tea bags in order to make it easily available.
In 2013, while in her second year at the Catholic University Institute of Buea, Cameroon, studying chemical engineering, Zommi launched the Emerald Moringa Tea and began distributing to consumers in Molyko, a town in the Buea region of Cameroon.
“So at first I was doing this just for my mom, but then I realised this could help other people like her in Cameroon, as well as Africa,” Zommi said in an interview with How We Made It In Africa.
She had found that at least ten percent of Cameroon’s population have, or are at risk of having, diabetes. She also found that poverty was one of the leading causes of diabetes as a lot of cheap foods were high in sugar. The high cost of treatment for the disease put healthcare out of the reach of many poor Cameroonians, hence the need for a natural and cheap alternative.
“Studies show that drinking moringa tea after a meal can ease digestion, and after two hours of intake, sugar levels in the body drop,” Zommi said.
Moringa farmers supply her with fresh leaves which she dries at low temperature to preserve its nutrients. She then flavours them with lemon extract and then places them in tea bags. Zommi’s vision is to increase the percentage of tea drinkers in Cameroon from 5% to 40% by the year 2025.
“The project will be successful when homes, offices and shops have tea bags resulting in healthier lifestyles,” she said.
She is working to expand her distribution to all regions of Cameroon and other African countries. At present, she has trained local farmers on how to plant and provides them with seeds so they can be financially independent. Her interest in entrepreneurship, she has stated, is to have positive impact on her community.
Zommi, who was born on 26th October, 1995 in Cameroon, and is currently studying for her masters degree at Villanova University in the US, from where she directs a team of dedicated staff.
“Managing a team and inspiring confidence in team members is not easy and very challenging but I made my team members to understand that for us to attain our goals we need to build a spirit of cooperation and not of competition and with this in mind everything is moving on smoothly,” she said.
This successful venture, however, almost failed to take off due to lack of funds. At the early stages, she almost gave up but thanks to the Ashoka grant of $1,000, she was able to carry on with the initiative. Zommi has gone on to win several other awards and prizes. She was one of 12 finalists of the 2015 Anzisha Prize for young African social entrepreneurs. Her company also won the first prize of the Grand Innovation Award for start-ups in Cameroon.
Zommi has emphasised the need for aspiring entrepreneurs to be proactive.
“Don’t just sit there and wait for a miraculous moment to make things happen. Just take the first step,” she said. “You might fail, but each time you fail you learn that you haven’t done the right thing in the right way.”