Meet the Tropical Almond founders: Freda Sarfo and Emmanuel Afoakwah

Selorm Tamakloe
8 min readFeb 18, 2021

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Freda Sarfo

Freda Sarfo’s day job is with Amazon in Arizona as a Data Analyst. When it’s night-time in Arizona and the earth turns for the sun to bring daylight to the West African tropics, she is working to co-lead a startup she co-founded with Emmanuel Afoakwah who works with MoringaConnect in Ghana as Head of Food Manufacturing.

Both co-founders of the Tropical Almond company must have learnt the art of management pretty well to balance building this young startup with their full-time jobs. In this interview, I have them share with us their journeys into kick-starting this business, and the problems they aim to solve through this venture.

Tell us your stories leading into co-founding Tropical Almond.

Freda: Growing up, I was always interested in entrepreneurship. I had interesting business ideas that I desired to put into action. At age 13, I said to my mum “I want to make jam, I want to start a jam business.” My mum took me seriously and purchased the stuff I needed. I watched some YouTube videos, tried a couple of times, failed in many of my attempts and then it finally worked out. I was able to make my jam. Turning that into a business faded as quickly as the idea came. Before I knew, I was interested in something else — cake it was this time

My mum knew I would try and then stop along the way, but she supported me regardless. But this time, life was slightly different. My family had some financial problems. I wasn’t yet the person who could step out to market my products, so it was hard making any sales from my cakes though we needed the money. Believe it or not, a university student who had just moved into our neighbourhood randomly came over to our house and asked if I made cakes. He was pleased with the cakes I baked and decided to order from me regularly. His cake orders came in once each week till he completed university and moved from that area. My cake business came to an end because I still didn’t know how to market my ideas and get new customers.

When I got to university, I wanted to study Business Administration so I could learn to manage, market and grow my own business. I loved it because I was getting to learn about different aspects of businesses. It was hard for me to choose a major because I just wanted to do everything. But for some reason, I narrowed down to logistics because I found myself developing a particular interest in it. I eventually decided to major in logistics.

I met Emmanuel in SASA, a creative arts group we were both a part of. He told me about his final year project which was about Tropical Almonds. What drew me to the project was that nobody believed in his idea. As a child, I experienced that on a number of occasions, so I was interested and curious about his idea and project. I decided to work on the project along with him.

Emmanuel: I always had an interest in agriculture while I was growing up. My dad was a police officer who had a little farm in the barracks, more like a garden. We would go there every weekend to work. Those moments enriched my interest in agriculture. Unfortunately, my dad passed away when I was 8. I moved to live with a family friend and kept a small garden there for myself.

In senior high school, I was drawn to engineering. A visit to a friend’s dad who was an agriculture engineering lecturer at KNUST provided a glimpse into what it would look like to combine engineering and agriculture. But I wondered if I would be able to make a good living out of that. My considerations drifted towards petroleum engineering and civil engineering, but when my admissions came in for KNUST, I was given agriculture engineering.

I decided to give it my all. I always wanted to do something impactful, so I would brainstorm with one of my friends for ideas to work on. On a trotro commute to work during my third-year summer internship, I heard a presidential candidate talk about how Ghana was underutilizing some of the crops we had. The plant that stood out in the list for me was the Tropical Almond (abrofonkatie). I thought about it and realised that interestingly, the seeds from that tree were hardly ever on the market, even though I loved them and would buy them if they were available for sale. My internship was at the ministry of agriculture, so I asked one of the workers if there was a big market for the tropical almond. He said it is just one of those plants that haven’t been commercialized yet.

I started to read about the plant and realised it had so many benefits that most people simply didn’t spend time to know. Plus, there wasn’t a drive from the Western world to supply it because it didn’t exist in those areas. I pitched the idea to my project supervisor and he wasn’t open at all to it. He said plainly to me that if it failed, the failure of the project would be on me. That was when I spoke to Freda and she was open to it.

How did the research project evolve into a business?

Emmanuel: I read the article about Moringa Connect which you conducted with Kwami Williams. I found what they were doing to be what I was interested in — making the most out of the moringa plant. I liked that they had community impact integrated into the model of their business. I said to myself “this is exactly what I want to do with the Tropical Almond tree.

I had made some progress on my research work by that time. I had compared and contrasted the tropical almond with the California almond and realised that the California almond takes so much more water than the tropical almond among many other discoveries. I struggled to find seedlings though, but I eventually got some from a farmer in the Eastern region.

One dawn, while studying, I couldn’t get the thought of turning this into a business out of my head, so I paused my studies and sent an email to Kwami. He found my research interesting and put me in contact with one of the leaders at MoringaConnect. I applied to work there, went through the interview process and joined MoringaConnect.

That was around the same time that Freda got the MasterCard Scholarship to go study at Arizona State University. We came up with our plan to have me work part-time building the business on the ground as she raised funds and created a market presence for Tropical Almond in the US.

Kwami was really kind to have us test our ideas with MoringaConnect’s equipment. It would have been difficult for us as a startup to purchase that equipment by ourselves just to try out ideas we were not sure would work out. The first idea was the Tropical Almond oil. We had to conduct our own research on how the tropical almond seeds could be converted into cosmetic products. An Italian cosmetics expert who usually tries out some of MoringaConnect’s products tried out our oils and loved them remarkably for the lasting moisturizing effect that they created. She’s been purchasing our oils ever since.

After we had raised some capital, Freda came over to Ghana for us to set up our own factory and explore other products. People started reaching out and offering to help. Kwami Williams advised that we add food products to our product list because those move faster. We developed some recipes and started work on getting FDA approvals. What used to be a research project, is now providing jobs and opportunities for others.

What does the Tropical Almond company seek to do?

Freda: We take underutilized crops and process them into consumable goods to improve health for families. Our aim is to protect the environment in the most sustainable manner possible. Millions of almond seeds fall from Ghanaian trees each year and are wasted away on streets and byways. We want to reduce food wastage.

Our contract workers in these communities pick the almond seeds up and crack open the shells to bring out the seeds. We purchase the seeds at decent prices and take them into our factories for processing. Our range of food and cosmetic products are sold locally and globally to a growing clientele.

Ignorance has led many Ghanaian villagers to start cutting this life-enriching tree. They claim the leaves create waste in their neighbourhoods. We have an outreach program to educate these people. As we educate them, we let them know that they could be earning money from their tropical almond trees if they keep them and sell the fruits to us.

Emmanuel and I grew up with single mothers. We wouldn’t be where we are now if not for their resilience. An estimated 25% of Ghanaian children grow up with single mothers. We want to help single mothers in poor communities to receive higher levels of income. Most of them do manual labour work, cleaning houses for people, washing, cooking and selling. Working with Tropical Almond presents them with an easier yet more fruitful option of just picking up almond seeds and selling to us.

Through Emmanuel’s work with MoringaConnect, he comes into contact with a lot of children in villages who are seriously malnourished. Sometimes, these children would eat just a single meal in two days. Our question was — how can we help these children? If they are malnourished, how can they even get to school, let alone excel in their education? These children are supposed to become our nation’s future leaders, but here they are in lack of the nutrition needed to develop their brain capacity for the future that awaits them. We have developed an instant cereal from the by-products of the almond fruit after the oil extraction which we serve to malnourished children in impoverished communities. Our goal is to have better leaders for Ghana’s future.

How can people get involved?

The first thing you can do is to tell someone about the Tropical Almond company. Tell people in your neighbourhood about the benefits of the Tropical Almond. You can go online and purchase some of our products and try them for yourself. When you purchase our oils, you automatically purchase a snack for a child. Send us an email (support@tropicalalmond.com) and we will get back in touch to have a conversation about business that changes lives.

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Selorm Tamakloe

principally an interviewer, consequentially a poet, and occasionally voicing opinions