Interview: Komaza

Interview with Tevis Howard from KOMAZA – 2012


KOMAZA won the Africa Prize in the 2011 William James Foundation Competition. The KOMAZA team creates sustainable economic opportunities for smallholder farmers in East Africa semi-arid regions by building a complete, vertically integrated forestry value chain from seed to market. They partner with rural farmers living on less than a dollar a day to help them plant and maintain small-scale, income-generating tree farms. The WJF’s Erin Jones checked in with Tevis Howard about KOMAZA.

Where are you located?

We have a small US presence in Emeryville, California. Our core team and headquarters are in Kilifi, Kenya.

What problem are you trying to solve?

Rural dryland poverty

How did you become interested in this problem?

I spent one and a half years in Kenya doing malaria immunology research. After becoming familiar with the place and after seeing so much poverty, I decided what poor people need most is a lot more money.

What is your solution to the problem?

Our solution is to help farmers make their land more productive.

Who are your customers?

We think about our customers on two sides. By the traditional definition, they are the people who buy the wood products, the ones putting cash into KOMAZA. We are growing trees with poor farmers and that wood is sold to build things, such as fence posts. So in a business to consumer sense, our customers are the wood industry.

Really the whole reason we do it though is not to grow wood for contracts, but to serve our clients and producers, the really poor farmers, specifically the ones on dryland where there is not enough rain to grow good food.

In sum: the beneficiaries are the farmers and the consumers are those who buy wood.

What are some of your major challenges?

It is always raising money, although we are making some progress with that. There’s also the public perception of understanding what we do and how we define success—we are always getting better at that. However, mostly it’s raising money.

How many people do you employ?

We employ 10 people right now.

Has the William James Foundation competition and mentoring program helped you on your way?

The program gave us an enormous amount of feedback on our business plan and those nuggets worked their way into future business plan versions. We won the Africa prize, so we received both business plan feedback and money.

What other resources have you found that are particularly useful for social entrepreneurs?

Other foundations that have a good perspective on the space, such as:

Stanford Social Innovation Review
Harvard Business Review

For readers who want to know more about what you’re up to, where can we send them?

Our website