Updated: Feb 14
“As a young girl growing up in Kipnai, maize was mostly prepared and eaten as roasted, or boiled cob, githeri/nyoyo (boiled mixture of maize and beans), or sometimes we used maize flour to make porridge or thick mass called ugali. Every time my mother prepared ugali, my siblings and I fought over the crust that remained at the bottom of the pan. It was a delicacy to die for, and in some cases, the crust and leftover ugali was our breakfast snack,” said Elizabeth.
In the early ’90s, Elizabeth Jebiwot Bischof, a village girl from Elgeyo Marakwet, got an
opportunity to be among a few international students on an exchange program at Case Western Reserve University in the USA. While there, she met and interacted with other students from Mexico and the Caribbean, where she was introduced to their cuisine. She discovered that ugali crust is a big thing in those countries, popularly referred to as tortilla chips/crisp or nachos when served as a meal. An idea was born to make tortillas and nachos in Kenya and support her family and community that depended on maize farming for their livelihoods. Back at home, there was no value added to maize; however, in the local supermarkets, imported maize-based snacks were sold at expensive prices.
For over 20 years, while working in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East as a senior HR professional, in global companies such as General Motors, Barry Callebaut, Alstom, SR Technics, AGCO where she established regional Africa and Middle headquarters in Cape Town-South Africa and recently as senior Organizational Performance consultant at Aramco, Saudi Arabia; the desire to go back to Kenya to upgrade ugali crust to tortilla never left her mind. In 2010, together with her husband Daniel Bischof, they established and nurtured Bischof Developing Local Opportunities (BDELO) to an award-winning food processing company. Bdelo offers a wide range of All-natural, healthy, foods and snacks; gluten and preservative-free, and Halal-certified maize-based foods and snacks; fused and/enriched with high nutritional super grains, legumes, and vegetables such as millet, chia, moringa, kale, sweet potato, arrowroots, and Irish potato.
Bdelo sources its main raw materials (maize and potatoes) from smallholder farmers in Elgeyo Marakwet and Trans Nzoia, and the other materials from various counties through aggregators. Recently, Bdelo partnered with ADAPTA, a ClimateTech company that leverages satellite, weather, soil, water, market, and gender data as part of its loan underwriting process. ADAPTA is developing a climate score module that provides a climate score and a climate adaptation plan to make informed credit decisions while assisting farmers and Agri-SMEs adapt to climate change.
ADAPTA is funding Bdelo to scale up its production and export to East Africa, the UK, and the Middle East. Bdelo is currently sold in major supermarkets in East Africa and recently made trials in some supermarkets in the Middle East. They will export semi-finished tortilla sheets which will be cut, cooked, and packed in the Middle East.
Bdelo’s greatest challenge as they scale up will be the sustainability of the right quality and quantity of raw material at the right time and price. The company incurs heavy costs sorting grains to achieve a premium product. The main root cause of all this is climate change, which is affecting smallholders. Short and intense rains, increased temperatures, increased incidences of pests and diseases, and drought makes farming an expensive and unpredictable venture. In this partnership, ADAPTA is working with Bdelo to enable its farmers to adapt to climate change using climate-smart technologies. ADAPTA, in partnership with the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, will provide farmers technical support to improve soils, water management, and access to suitable seed varieties that are high yielding and tolerant to a changing climate.
I asked Elizabeth what her advice to Kenyan women is also seeking to succeed as
entrepreneurs: “It has not been an easy road, especially being a woman entrepreneur. My achievements could not be possible without a commitment to education, dedication, resilience, community (higher aspirations to preserve the legacy and heritage of my family as great farmers in the North Rift) supportive family; thanks to my husband and partner, our two daughters; Safiya and Tula who have been and continue to be our pillar of success and surrounding myself with supportive professional and business partners.
Agriculture and food value chains are inherently complex, especially the supply chain which is further complicated by fragmented inbound and outbound networks. One needs strong partners to thrive, and I am happy to have ADAPTA help me on my journey as an entrepreneur in Kenya and the world”, she concluded. We are proud to have you as a partner Elizabeth.