Assessing Financial Feasibility of African Eggplant Production

Progress report for FNE21-978

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2021: $14,081.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Big Dream Farms LLC
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Kama Doucoure
Big Dream Farms LLC
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Project Information

Project Objectives:

The project seeks to determine the financial feasibility of producing one acre of African eggplant in New York’s Hudson Valley Region. The specific objectives for this project include:

  1. Cultivate one acre of African eggplant in Saugerties, NY
  2. Compile a list of enterprise-specific costs for the production of one acre of African eggplant, including supplies, specialized equipment, and labor.
  3. Compile a list of enterprise-specific income for the sale of one acre of African eggplant, including sales through retail and wholesale marketplaces.
  4. Create an African eggplant enterprise budget that shows per unit gross margins and net profit/loss for the enterprise.
  5. Produce three, 2-3 minute videos of different production practices for African eggplant.

Through this project we hope to better understand the financial feasibility of commercial production of one acre of African eggplant in New York’s Hudson Valley. Clear data on enterprise-specific costs and income for 1 acre of African eggplant will offer regional farmers the opportunity to test feasibility of adding this enterprise to their own farms.

Introduction:

Between 2010-2018, the population of sub-Saharan African immigrants in the United States increased by 52 percent. Overall, approximately 2 million African immigrants now reside in the United States, up from less than 150,000 in 1980. New York State is home to the second largest proportion of African immigrants in the country, with Bronx County in New York City being the county with the second highest concentration of African immigrants in the United States.[1]

Despite a growing population, West African immigrants lack access to fresh, culturally appropriate food products, including fresh vegetables. Immigrant farmers, who have traditional knowledge of these crops and connections to markets, face significant barriers to starting farm businesses, including systemic racism, language barriers, and cultural appropriate learning opportunities. In addition, very little research has been performed on the financial feasibility of African vegetable crops to test their profitability. Because of this, and despite a growing market, there is a significant lack of cultivation of fresh African food products in the Northeast.

African eggplant (solanum aethiopicum), also known as bitter tomato, Ethiopian eggplant, or nakati, is a West African vegetable, with a somewhat bitter taste, that is a popular fresh ingredient for traditional African cuisine. The product is only occasionally available in the United States through import markets.

This project proposes to grow 1-acre of African eggplant in New York’s Hudson Valley region and study the associated profitability. By researching the financial feasibility of African eggplant production through the creating of an enterprise budget, regional farmers will have an improved understanding of costs and expected income for African eggplant. Using this, farmers can assess the financial feasibility of adoption of this enterprise to their own businesses, which has the potential to increase net farm income and improve productivity. Adding more culturally appropriate food products to the regional agricultural landscape adds to diversity, engages marginalized populations in local food systems, improves health and nutrition for systematically marginalized populations, and helps to develop supply chains owned by people of color.  

[1] [1] https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/sub-saharan-african-immigrants-united-states-2018

Cooperators

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  • Christopher Wayne - Technical Advisor

Research

Materials and methods:

Objective 1: Cultivate and market 1 acre of African eggplant in Saugerties, NY

Methods and Measurements: Production of this product will begin before the grant period begins, as African eggplant seeds are purchased, and seeds are started in a heated greenhouse in mid-late February 2021. In May, primary tillage, composting, drip tape laying, and black plastic mulch installation will occur to prep fields for transplanting. After transplanting, interrow weeding and pest and disease scouting will ensure healthy production. Starting at the end of June, harvesting will begin and continue through late September. From June-mid-October, marketing to African retailers and wholesalers in the Bronx, NY will take place.

Objective 2: Compiling a list of enterprise-specific costs for the production of one acre of African eggplant, including supplies, specialized equipment, and labor.

Methods and Measurements: All enterprise-specific receipts for production of African eggplant will be maintained throughout the project life in both physical form (where possible) and digital form on a farm-based computer. Receipts will also be maintained for those costs that are incurred before the project start date of March 1st, 2021, including seeds and lime. Labor records will be maintained through the completion of labor logs completed each day and filed each week.

Objective 3: Compiling a list of enterprise-specific yields and income received for the sale of one acre of African eggplant, including sales through retail and wholesale marketplaces.    

Methods and Measurements: Starting with the first harvest of African eggplant at the end of June 2021, the farm team will measure all yields of African eggplant through daily yield logs.  

All enterprise-specific sales of African eggplant will be maintained throughout the project life in physical (where possible) and digital form. Beginning with the expected first sales of African eggplant in June 2021, daily sales logs will be maintained noting the primary market channel (wholesale, retail, etc), the types of unit sold (per pound, 15 lb/box, etc), the number of each unit sold, and the price received.

Objective 4: Creating an African eggplant enterprise budget that shows per unit gross margins and net profit/loss for the enterprise.

Methods and Measurements: Upon the completion of all sales of African eggplant (expected in December 2021), we will organize all expenses and income for the African eggplant enterprise for placement into an enterprise budget template. Utilizing a template provided by Washington State University, we will build all associated expenses and income into an intuitive and accessible document that shows economic feasibility of African eggplant. Precautions will be taken to include only those costs that are directly associated with the enterprise under research. Where an enterprise expense is part of a broader farm expense, such as gas used to fuel market vehicle that may be carrying other farm products, a percentage of total cost method will be utilized to determine costs. The enterprise budget document will clearly show total enterprise expenses, gross revenue by market type, total gross revenue, net profit, and per/unit gross margin.

Objective 5: Produce three, 2-3 minute videos of different production practices for African eggplant.   

Methods and Measurements: Understanding that immigrant farmers often do not obtain information about agricultural production techniques from traditional ag resources such as written guides, we will producer three short videos showing African eggplant production techniques. These videos will be produced using cellphone cameras, and will show greenhouse starts, planting, and harvesting techniques. 

Research results and discussion:

Kama successfully sprouted, transplanted, and protected his African Eggplant crop from pests in the 2021 season. Due to the high rainfall during Hurricane Ida in September of 2021, the field were wiped out and he lost his crop for the season. Kama has already begun the growing process of the crop for the 2022 season and results regarding successful growing practices and distribution models will be submitted upon the extended project deadline of March of 2023. 

Research conclusions:

Due to the fact that product was not able to make it to market in the 2021 season due to inclement weather, research conclusions from this project will be submitted in March of 2023. 

Participation Summary
1 Farmer participating in research
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.