The Super Food Company That Wants to Change the World [Q&A]

How a simple plant from Nigeria could bring about a global food revolution

Sep 29, 2017
Kuli Kuli founder Lisa Curtis celebrates with female farmers in Nigeria.

Lisa Curtis celebrates with female farmers in Nigeria. (Kuli Kuli Foods)

When Lisa Curtis was a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, she came across a plant that practically saved her life. Curtis was in the first stages of malnutrition when someone gave her leaves from the moringa oleifera tree, which contains extremely high levels of protein, calcium, iron and Vitamin A and C,  and she instantly felt better.

The miracle plant got Curtis thinking about how to bring the benefits of moringa to the world, while at the same time supporting local women from Niger. Her answer is Kuli Kuli Foods - a social enterprise that dreams to improve nutrition and livelihoods worldwide through moringa.

For this week's 10 Good Questions, Goodnet spoke to Lisa Curtis to find out what makes Kuli Kuli Foods special and what gives her the motivation to be a driving force behind changing the food world.

1. WHAT IS YOUR ORGANIZATION’S MISSION?

Kuli Kuli's mission is to improve nutrition and livelihoods worldwide through a powerful green superfood called moringa.

2. WHAT MAKES YOU GUYS DIFFERENT FROM THE REST?

Over 60% of Americans say incorporating more vegetables into their diet is their #1 priority but only 4% of Americans are getting their recommended serving of veggies per day. Kuli Kuli's delicious Moringa Superfood Bars, Pure Moringa Powder and Moringa Green Energy Shots make it easy for Americans to get their greens on the go while planting moringa trees and supporting women farmers worldwide.

Kuli Kuli works with farmers all over the world to drive economic growth, women’s empowerment and sustainable agricultural development by utilizing moringa as a tool for nutritional security. To date, Kuli Kuli has developed an organic moringa supply chain in three countries, planted over 1M moringa trees and provided more than $1.5M of income to over 1,000 moringa farmers and women’s cooperatives.

3. WHAT THREE WORDS DESCRIBE YOUR ORGANIZATION?

Passionate, Curious and Optimistic

4. WHAT INSPIRES YOU?

It was late in at night and I was drinking tea with friends from my Peace Corps village. A small child approached, stumbling out of the darkness and collapsing at our feet. The boy had left his family to search for food and had not eaten in three days. All of the village women had put out their cooking fires, but I was known for eating packaged foods. That morning, a care package had come from my mother, full of nutritional bars. I grabbed a few, stuffing them into the hands of the child and praying that it was enough.

However, I knew that it was not. We have been stuffing food in the hands of Africans for decades with little improvement for those we are purportedly trying to help. To put a new spin on the classic fisherman adage, “Give a Nigerien woman a sack of American-grown corn, and she will eat for a day. Teach her how to grow nutritious food, and she will feed her entire community.

In West Africa, 18 million people are malnourished and 55% of the population lives on less than $1 per day. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger, I conducted a three-month needs assessment and identified two challenges: widespread malnutrition and a lack of economic opportunity for women.

Moringa is an abundant local superfood, but few people benefit from it. Its leaves are processed in ways that leach nutrients and it is viewed as a low-value crop. Upon returning to the U.S., I worked with a few friends to bring to life what became Kuli Kuli. I'm inspired everyday by the people I met in Niger -- I only hope I can give back a portion of what they gave to me.

5. WHO'S YOUR FAVORITE GOOD DOER FIGURE?

I am so inspired by Yvon Chouinard. When Kuli Kuli grows up, we want to be the Patagonia of the food industry. They have pushed the apparel industry forward, from the amazing recycled and sustainable products that they produce to the leadership they’ve shown in convening other companies into a Sustainable Apparel Coalition.

They were also the first company in California to become a full-fledged Benefit Corporation. Kuli Kuli followed shortly after. Even as Patagonia has committed incredible resources to environmental sustainability, they’ve also grown in revenue and profitability.

6. WHAT IS THE BEST PART ABOUT YOUR JOB?

I am constantly learning and being challenged in new ways. It's not an easy job but its immensely rewarding.

7. HOW DO YOU MEASURE SUCCESS WITHIN YOUR ORGANIZATION?

Kuli Kuli’s mission is improve nutrition and livelihoods worldwide through moringa. We are a certified Benefit Corporation, meaning that we place equal weight on people, planet and profit in all of our business decisions. Our three long-term goals are focused on improving lives within the communities we source from and our hometown of Oakland. Specifically, we aim to end malnutrition, empower women to achieve gender equality and plant a tree for each household in the communities where we work.

8. FACEBOOK OR TWITTER?

Neither, its all about Instagram! We love showing people new ways to use moringa.

9. WHAT DO YOU WANT GOODNET USERS TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR ORGANIZATION?

We are a social enterprise first and business second but, at the same time, we know that if we don't have a market, our mission can't survive. I'd love folks to check out our website, learn more about moringa or visit our Amazon page and see if there might be a product there that they're interested in.

10. HOW CAN PEOPLE GET INVOLVED?

The best way to support us is by purchasing our moringa products and/or helping us tell our story on social media. We love interacting with folks on Facebook and Twitter in addition to of course Instagram.

DAVID RUHM, EDITOR & WRITER
David has a passion for languages and words, and loves to see people happy. He writes about inspiring ideas, amazing technologies and all the wonders of the world.

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