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Garry Bahadur, CEO of Raw Essentials and Living Food Inc. (REAL Food)

For those who wish to make a difference in the world, they will never settle until they see their hard work finally paid off. Garry Bahadur is one of these people. He has always believed in chasing his dreams and making a positive impact on the world. He put his dream of pursuing a career in the music industry aside to focus on what he’s always been passionate about: nutrition and finance. His interest in health and commodity trading is what inspired him to launch Raw Essentials and Living Food Inc. (REAL Food), a commodity-trading business focused on staples that form the basis of nutrition and forming connections between Africa and the rest of the world.

Now, Bahadur’s daily routine involves government-level consultations where he advises developing African nations on how to sell their foods to the rest of the world. He strongly believes in Africa’s potential and how companies like his will be responsible for making Africa a pivotal global economic player. The Edge was privileged to chat with Garry to understand his business and its future. He shares the challenges of cross-border trading and how he thinks Africa can be central to international trade.

Who are the customers of REAL Food, and what commodities does it currently deal in?

REAL Food actually focuses on one specific region in Africa. Predominantly we sell to West Africa. There are 15 countries that make up West Africa formally; that’s the economic community of West African states. Our clientele is basically between Senegal, Gambia, Benin, Togo, Liberia, Nigeria, Ghana, [and] Burkina Faso. 

We also [sell to] the landlocked countries that make up West Africa. [Countries like] Mali will reach out to us indirectly because we can’t ship directly to them. Usually, they’re dealing with one of the countries that are facing the water — whether it’s Benin or Gambia or Senegal or Togo — to get their products. With regards to the products, they’re usually asking for the staples. When I say the staples, I’m talking about rice, sugar, cooking oil, flour, corn, [and] sometimes frozen seafood. Sometimes, beef [and] poultry.

What are the challenges that you face in international trade or trade at a global scale?

The major challenge is [the role] that politics plays in everything. First off, in the commodities trading business, you can pretty much predict what’s going on in the world just by the politics that play out in the trade business. There are certain countries — Nigeria, for example — [that] we can’t import sugar from Brazil. There’s an embargo on sugar. Those are usually the first indicators: [it’s] understanding the politics, and then understanding the finance, and then understanding the logistics. 

There are also issues of language. In West Africa, for example, they use collateral management to settle transactions, especially in the commodities business. The banks actually take responsibility for the product as opposed to your buyer taking direct consignment of the product. The banks in Senegal, for example, [have] the same thing: collateral management. It means that the bank is taking possession of the goods. The buyer will go and pay the bank, and then the bank will release the goods to them. We’re dealing with customs issues. All of these dynamics come into play in the trade business. Therefore, they become those challenges that you have to overcome as part of your day-to-day process.

Tell us about your team structure and your leadership style.

I’m the sole director of the corporation. The team actually is a mobile [one]. I have regional managers throughout the world. I also have my network of representatives that will source the products. International representatives all report to me. I have an administrator here in Canada who oversees that aspect of the business. I have legal representatives in every country that we do business with based on any kind of sensitive issues or political or legal issues that may come up. 

As far as the leadership style is concerned. I would say that I’m pretty liberal. I generally set the tone. I give my workers the directives, but I also give them latitude to use their own judgment. For example, my colleague in India will call me and he’ll say, “Hey, I came across this situation, how would you like me to address it?” Then I [turn] the question back around and I say, “Okay, well, how do you suggest [we] address it? You’re front facing the issue, right? You tell me how it’s going to impact what we’re doing.” And then we can make an informed decision. 

What is the potential of Africa as a continent for contributing to global trade and world markets? How do you think that African economies can be developed to take centre stage in the global economy?

One of the challenges in Africa is [that African nations] don’t necessarily have a mature trade mechanism. The economies in most of Africa are quite small. Their currencies are depressed, so it’s very difficult to deal with international trade through Africa. In the banking world, we’ll work with a bank that has a double- or a triple-A rating, meaning that they have sizable capacity. There aren’t very many banks on the continent of Africa that actually can accommodate that capacity. What happens is they have this dependency on Europe or Asia or North America to help to facilitate that through correspondent banking relationships. 

As far as the potential of Africa, I mean it’s immeasurable. [It has] got every resource that the planet needs in literally every corner of the continent. They have the capacity to grow rice, but don’t have processing facilities to process the rice. Therefore, they have to import it. The same can be said about any other agro crop [and] the oil and gas industry. What’s required is to put in the appropriate methodologies so that [African nations] would be able to appeal to the international community and actually create these bilateral situations that are enjoyed in Europe and North America and Asia, respectively.

What future do you envision for REAL Food?

[With REAL Food], what I’m in the process of doing now is I’m looking to diversify the company. There’s a number of companies seeking me out to consult. So, there’s the consultation aspect of the business, then there’s the financing aspect of the business. Shipping is a necessity. We’re going to be looking at diversifying the company into the shipping sector and logistics and warehousing. Eventually, on the tail end of everything, [we] will be setting up our own brand of stores, [and] supermarkets. Because we can source the products ourselves, we become our own distributor, and in turn, we become our own retailer. 

Arslan Ahmed | Staff Writer

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