In this edition of our Community Spotlight series, we chat with Kuli Kuli Foods' Founder and CEO, Lisa Curtis. Through sustainable harvesting of moringa trees, Lisa has provided healthy and nourishing products, while empowering women internationally. Continue reading to learn more about Lisa and Kuli Kuli.
Tell us about a bit about Kuli Kuli.
Kuli Kuli is a multi-million dollar social enterprise that sources the leaves of the moringa tree from 2,400 small farmers across 11 different countries in Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia. We partner with our farmers to plant over 12 million moringa trees on previously deforested land. We work with them to pick, wash, dry and powder the leaves of the moringa trees using the highest quality methods. Kuli Kuli purchases the dried moringa leaf powder directly from the farmers, providing over $4.4M in income to small farmers since our market launch in 2014. Kuli Kuli turns this moringa powder into retail products and sells moringa powders, bars, and wellness shots in retail stores across the US ranging from Whole Foods to Costco to Walmart. Moringa is a naturally regenerative crop because it is a tree whose leaves can be harvested 3-5 times per year. Kuli Kuli believes that we can make our supply chain even more climate-friendly by intercropping other crops alongside moringa and creating new products that incorporate these crops. We want to build out two regenerative model farms in Uganda and Niger with moringa, breadfruit, hibiscus, and other climate-smart crops.
What inspired you to start your company?
After experiencing malnutrition as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger, I turned to moringa to regain my strength. Moringa is a local tree that helps with malnutrition and reforestation, but isn't widely known. I found that the women in my village saw no reason to grow moringa when there was no market demand. I started Kuli Kuli to tackle the twin challenges of malnutrition and climate change that plague our global community. In the US there are millions of people looking for all-natural ways to nourish their busy lifestyles, just as there are a billion people around the world just looking for nourishment to survive. Investing in sustainable agriculture is, hands down, the most effective method of reducing poverty and one of the most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gases. However, investment in agriculture has been declining for the past two decades. I saw the rise of greens – from green juices to kale smoothies – and the popularity of superfoods such as quinoa, chia and acai. As a green superfood with strong medicinal benefits, I knew that moringa was a superfood that would resonate with the US population, while supporting women moringa farmers in West Africa and planting millions of moringa trees. Upon returning to the US from Peace Corps, I founded Kuli Kuli, a mission-driven business, to drive economic growth, women’s empowerment and sustainable agricultural development by selling sustainably sourced moringa products.
What advice do you have for someone embarking on a career in your sector?
In a globalized world, the challenges that our world faces are intertwined and span across borders and cultures. I find the two most important traits that I look for are the ability to quickly learn new things and to collaborate across different cultures and personality traits. I'd recommend that people travel, explore different hobbies and figure out what their unique mark on the world will be.
What are you most passionate about in your work?
I am most passionate about helping rural farmers. Kuli Kuli sources from small farmers in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. We seek to support farmers at the base of the economic pyramid who live in rural areas. We require that women are lead, or in positions of power within the farming cooperative or enterprise, and that all farm and processing workers are paid above market wages. We demand that no forest is cleared to plant the moringa trees, but rather that they are planted on previously deforested or agricultural land. All of our farmers face similar challenges of a changing climate leading to sparse rainfall and strange weather patterns. Through their partnership with Kuli Kuli, many of our farmers have been able to afford irrigation and solar power, which improves both their productivity and the health of our planet.
How can one contribute to climate solutions outside of their career?
I am a big believer in living a low-carbon lifestyle. I ride my bike to work everyday, I'm vegetarian, I purchase mostly all organic food and I try to minimize my flight travel as much as I can given work demands. There is so much that we can each do in our lives to combat climate change. As an added bonus, many of these activities, like bike commuting and eating vegetarian are also very beneficial to our health.