Maarouf Barry, Business Management ’20, is looking to change the way we produce, package, and market palm oil, and he’s using his Wentworth experience to help make it a more environmentally sustainable and socially empowering product.

Eleis Farm (pronounced “Ay-lay-is”) was founded by Barry’s parents in 2013. Based in Boke?, Guinea in Western Africa, the organization’s mission is to provide high-quality palm oil to the African diaspora by helping to increase smallholder farmers’ yields and reducing their impact on the environment. Barry has since brought his family’s startup to Accelerate, Wentworth’s Innovation + Entrepreneurship Center, to create networking opportunities for other students and to find mentors.

Barry explained that people tend to have a negative view of palm oil, as it has been linked to deforestation and the destruction of habitats. The communication and business branding skills he’s learned through his classes and Accelerate Startup Challenges have helped him educate others on
how red palm oil can be harvested and marketed sustainably, as well as ways that those in the industry can give back.

Accelerate’s Eleis Farm team was selected last year to be a part of MassChallenge, the largest accelerator program in the world. Barry took in all that he could from mentors and industry leaders, and brought those experiences back to Africa. He also saw the concepts he learned in his Wentworth classes come to life, especially the importance of having a niche market, something that Department of Management Associate Professor Michael Mozill had taught in his “Principles of Marketing” class.

Palm oil is a staple of the West African diet, and the demand for sustainably produced palm oil is higher than ever. To that end, Eleis Farm is working with smallholder farmers who already have their own functioning farms. Doing so eliminates the need for deforestation, and farmers can even use their land to grow multiple crops. Eleis Farm has also protected about 25 acres of inland forest with one of its initiatives, in addition to building a road to improve access to local markets for islanders, and restoring a water source in the village of Conakridy.

Eleis Farms has also been implementing blockchain technology in their quest to be more sustainable. That allows every user to know the exact journey their palm oil takes, from the seed to the plate. Through tools such as Google Earth time lapses, users can trace the whole process of how Eleis Farm harvests, packages, and markets each bottle of palm oil.

“Users can see how much the farmer made, how big his farm is, and a little biography from the farmer,” Barry says. “We give them access to a Google Earth image that they can trace back up to five years to see whether or not the farm is located on a piece of deforested land, because we truly want to provide that sense of sustainability.”

These same farmers experience benefits themselves, including better living conditions, healthier diets, higher incomes, and sustainable income activities. Eleis Farm also employs women farmers in a traditionally male-dominated area.

“That income has a higher chance of being delivered toward the children and the rest of the family,” Barry says of dual- income households. “It’s money that can be used for cooking, education, and school supplies, things like that.”

Currently, Eleis Farm works with 130 families all over Guinea. Barry is optimistic for the future of Eleis Farm and sustainable agriculture in general, because more than half of the world’s uncultivated land is in Africa.

—Samuel Kim