“What we do is take an environmental problem and turn it into a win-win solution,”
Beautiful, intelligent and composed, Achenyo Idachaba has a knack for spotting opportunities, and maximizing them for the benefits of others.
Her ability to weave beautiful pieces out of seemingly useless and potentially destructive plants has earned her a spot in the list of Africa’s most innovative entrepreneurs.
Born and raised in the US by Nigerian parents, Achenyo Idachaba spent her early years between Nigeria and America, where she built a successful career as a computer scientist and business analyst. Yet she always longed to return to her fatherland, to setup a business that will bring about a sustainable solution to the problems of the society.
In 2009, she returned to Ibadan, a city in the south-west region of Nigeria and three years later, she founded MitiMeth, a company that produces home and personal accessories from aquatic weeds that bloom in the country’s waterways.
These weeds such as the water hyacinth are an invasive species known to pose a major challenge to local communities and fishermen. They thrive along the water ways and their extensive roots tangle into weaves and clog the channels, which are a major transportation network to inland populations. They also deplete nutritional resources in their surroundings, leading to a decline in the fish population, which impacts food supplies and livelihoods for communities that rely so much on fishing.
Like a light bulb, the idea sparked up in Achenyo’s mind to transform these weeds into products, when she discovered through a research that communities in southeast Asia who were plagued with the water hyacinth had harvested the weed and transformed it into exquisite marketable products. ‘I thought to myself, this can be done here in Nigeria.’
To prove this, she reached out to few artisans who were skilled in weaving from palm and rattan. And with them, she created her first wonder art; a beautiful table and a wastebasket.
Whoever imagined that anything so beautiful can be made from unwanted plants?
Like a child who after regular practice is able to calculate his sums, Achenyo grew in courage and in a short while, she became a master of her craft. In 2013, the company was awarded a grant from the Federal Government of Nigeria. This helped to grow the company and employ seven full-time staff and also provide work opportunities to local artisans during busy work periods.
Achenyo’s products go through a rigorous production process before they are finally packaged for distribution. First, the weeds are harvested from several local water channels and dried out in the sun for days. After which, they are then processed into the rope needed to weave products together.
Beyond creating beautiful marketable products, the entrepreneur also has a blazing desire to impact the local communities with skills and potential business ideas they need to be able to make a decent living.
Since its formation, MitiMeth, has branched out into eight communities, mostly in the Niger Delta region, training and educating residents on how to make the most of this scourge and transform it into a money yielding venture. Looking into the future, it has plans to train 80 more communities within the next two years in the Niger Delta, the southwest and the northeast of Nigeria.
“We help them to see the invasive weed through a different lens in terms of this could actually become a source of livelihood,” she tells CNN “We go in and train them on how to harvest the material from the waterways, we tell them how they are supposed to dry it and then we teach them how to weave the water hyacinth. We also demonstrate the type of products that they could make. After we assist them with basic training, the rest is left up to their own creativity and we see them use the skills they have acquired to turn them into products that we’ve never even mentioned.”
The power lady has also built a successful online presence for the company with its web store, the online marketplace Etsy, as well as social networks, with which she markets her products to a huge Nigerian customer base and also sells through third party retail outlets in Lagos.
Like Achenyo, we all have the ability to spot opportunities, how ever disguised and make the most of them. Take the leap!
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