BY Fuad Abdirahman
When you encounter HersioAbdulle Saidfor the first time, you will immediately come away with one conclusion: she is a sharp-witted woman.Although her life has been one challenger after another,she has never allowed them to bog her down.
Hersio, as she is popularly known, is the founder and executive director of SOMfreshFruits and Vegetables, an enterprise that specialises in the production and selling of fruit such as banana, mango and other forms of fruit; it is headquartered in theWadajirDistrict of Mogadishu.
“For years now,SOMfreshFruits and Vegetableshas suppliedyellow banana and other fruits and vegetables to major hotels in Mogadishu and to other regions of Somalia,” she told Warsan Magazinewhen we paid her a visit.
Her company, she says,endeavours to engage highly competitive agribusinesses that supply world-class fresh fruits and vegetables to local and foreign markets. She specifically deals in fresh banana, mango, lemon, papaya and grapefruit,as well as vegetables that include coriander, lettuce, spinach, green paper and tomatoes.Her primary objective, she says, is toencourage the consumption of fruit and vegetables by Somali families, to improve their nutrition and promote a healthy lifestyle.
Hersio’srelationship with bananas dates back several years.
“It all began with my tendency to thoroughly clean my bananasbefore feeding them to my children. Whenever my friends or relatives visited, they’d alwayswonder why the bananas in my houselooked different from the ones in the market.My secret lay in cleaning storing them the correct way – as a result they were yellower and had a sheen to them. My brothers began talking me into venturing into selling bananas. Then running a small business in the Bakara market, I initially rejected the idea.”
Then, in 2003, her husband died, forcing her to abandon her business to move to the northern part of the country, before heading back to Mogadishu in 2010.The following year,shepartnered with one of her brothersto open a banana business in their neighbourhood. In 2013,SOMfreshFruits and Vegetables was registered as a company.
“I want my company togrow into a highly respected brand locally and around the globe for marketing and supplying high-quality,world-class fruit and vegetables,which meet global standards and keep customerssatisfied,” Hersio says.
As her business has flourished and, with it her skills in handling and selling quality fruit, she too has become a favourite of many hoteland home owners, who consider her product to be of a better quality than what the competition offers. It is how she obtained the nicknameMama Moos which translates to the ‘Banana Mum’. In a word, business is brisk.
It has not been an easy journey. Like with every big city, entrenched cartels stood in her way to the point that supplier would gang up to deny her the fruit she needed. But because people loved her store, rather than return empty-handed to disappointed customers,she wouldoften buy her product at an extra cost – that was the cost of her acumen.
“I was discriminated against. Often, I left the market in tears, with insults hurled after me. They wanted to break me – and they almost succeeded.”
She points a finger to a clique that wanted to dominate and monopolise the banana market. But Hersiowas determined to “conquer the market.”
“Whenever I remember that phase of my life, of being chased from the market, of having to pay double the price, tears well up in my eyes.But I overcame, and that is all there is to say now,” she says with a smile.
“At some point, my accusers began a rumour that I was selling poisonous bananas. I lost some customers as a result.”
From those crippling beginnings, Hersio now runs one of the biggest banana distribution companies in Mogadishu. She employsclose to 100 people. Amongst her assets are four vehiclesshe uses to deliver order across the city.
Describing herself as a marketer,Hersiosays she is self-made, and wants to conquer more than just Mogadishu.
Looking to the future, Hersio aspires to open a fruit processing factory to further add value to her products, including packaging for both hygiene and longevity.“
“I want to be able to supply to both local and foreign markets. Now, I understand that this will be an expensive endeavour, but I am not alone. Whenever I have been strapped for cash,I have always had GEEL (Growth, Enterprise, Employment & Livelihoods)to support me, particularly with constructing storage facilities; for that I thank them. I hope, when the time comes, I can get more investors to partner with,” she concludes.