SAVANA SAS is an agribusiness company established in France in 2004. Based in Europe, the company focuses on developing the African market. After nearly twenty years of advancement, the company has currently registered over 100 agrochemical products in more than 15 countries in central and western Africa under its own brand, and it is constantly taking advantage of new market trends and opportunities, by developing new off-patented products and biological control products.
AgroPages exclusively interviewed Thierry Marc LEPHILIBERT (SAVANA’s CEO) to talk about the current development situation and issues facing the African agricultural market, as well as SAVANA's development strategy in Africa.
Thierry Marc LEPHILIBERT, CEO of SAVANA
AgroPages (A): Please briefly introduce the history and current development of SAVANA, including its major markets, major products and services, and its company scale and market position.
Thierry Marc LEPHILIBERT (T): SAVANA was founded in 2004 by current chairman M. Pierre LEPHILIBERT, who was a 58-year old chemical engineer at that time. He already had a long business career in agchem distribution in western and central Africa for his former private company distributing MNC specialities.
The company focused on the area of agriculture inputs, such as plant protection products, fertilizers and seeds, as well as public health products, such as locust control and onchocerciasis control. Our customer range covers national cotton companies, large plantations, agro dealers and small scale farmers. All managers working at SAVANA have been living and working for some years in Africa, which is required to understand local markets and mentalities.
SAVANA‘s major markets are western and central African countries and Madagascar. The company’s working capital is €5 million, with 15 employees in France and approximately 100 employees in our eight African subsidiaries in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, DRC, Togo, Senegal, Guinea, Mali and Niger. The company’s turnover is around US$40 million per year.
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A: As a company established in France, how does SAVANA operate its business in Africa?
L: Our business philosophy is to offer affordable modern and effective solutions to help Africa meet its considerable challenge of feeding its population, by creating a sustainable agricultural sector and increasing yields. Africa requires patience, so hard and consistent work will always pay off.
Since its establishment in 2004, SAVANA has opened nine subsidiaries on the continent. These subsidiaries hold the national registrations of our 120 self-owned brand products. Working through subsidiaries enables us to better understand local markets and tale appropriate financial risk mitigation measures, but it is a lot of work!
In terms of manufacturing, we have established our production well through holding specialist workshops on product categories and carefully sourcing raw materials. SAVANA mainly works with Chinese manufacturers on sourcing. Products are designed and formulated according to our own approved and controlled ingredients with chosen packing manufacturers. They are directly shipped to our African subsidiaries.
Our local business, with ten subsidiaries, ensures our permanent presence, and therefore, excellent visibility to major players in our business.
A: In your opinion, what are the leading problems facing African agriculture today?
L: Unlike developed countries, most African countries do not have strong and well-funded agricultural policies, meaning that there is a lack of training for farmers. Credit access is also very limited, and there is a lack of advancement to add value to production, due to the cost of energy and poor roads. All these conditions lead to low levels of mechanized agriculture and limited yields.
For those wishing to enter this market, Africa is a school of patience. Be ready to spend most of your time and energy collecting your money and losing some. Beware of crooks.
A: How does SAVANA help fight agriculture problems such as the outburst of locusts, and improve agricultural sustainability and farmers' income levels in Africa?
L: Beside high performance seeds, when speaking about plant protection products, we believe in the four “R” rule: Right product in the Right dose at the Right time and the Right place.
We spend a lot of time, money and energy to fight against “old toxic” molecules to promote new solutions that are more efficient, safer for farmers, the environment and consumers. This requires field proximity with farmers to help them adopt the right technical itinerary. For that, our local agronomist teams are training farmers through field demonstrations and stewardships.
Locust outbreaks currently strike East Africa where SAVANA is not active. Regarding West and Central, SAVANA holds the registration of four different active ingredients and formulations against locusts. We are in close contact with national locust control agencies.
A: What is the new trend in the application of plant protection products in Africa? What’s SAVANA’s new product strategy in this market?
L: Even if demand is low, SAVANA has registered bio rational plant protection products and biostimulants. Unfortunately, most actors in the agchem distribution are “me-too” players, and farmers are very conservative. However, we refuse to trade old dirty molecules even if we miss business opportunities.
We prefer to see opportunities of showing the way and promote new trends by offering new off-patent actives and more “respectful” products. We conduct an active technology watch.
A: How does SAVANA manage its own supply chain?
L: SAVANA works closely with Chinese manufactures. Twice a year, we attend ACE and CAC fairs in Shanghai, regularly inspect manufacturers' facilities, and analyze finished products with third party inspection companies such as SGS or COTECNA. We have established long and trustworthy relations with some major producers. We always pay on time and use SINOSURE insurance. We have a professional back office team to handle logistics aspects.
A: The COVID-19 epidemic is currently spreading globally. Can you assess how this will affect the African agrochemical market, as well the company's current and future business operations?
L: It is hard to say. From our business point of view, the restriction of movement impacts our subsidiary business with at least 30% less turnover at the moment.
But African people will have to be fed whatever the situation. We hope national leaders will finally realize the importance of agriculture and food security and its central place as the basis of development.
SAVANA's sales force and M. Pierre LEPHILIBERT(right most in the picture), founder and current Chairman of SAVANA Group
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