Sunny Satva is the founder of the Vegan Africa Fund (VAF). VAF is a pioneering investor group aiming to empower Africa’s regenerative agriculture, alternative materials, and food technology businesses.
Sunny is a professional with an innovative vision who strives to create a better world.
I am incredibly excited to host Sunny on GreenLivingUK for this interview and learn more about the booming vegan market in Africa.
Sunny, would you like to tell us about you and your journey from studying bioengineering to working in the start-ups space?
Thank you for this opportunity to share my journey with you!
I’m a bioengineer by training, and at the beginning of my career, I worked in a biomechanics lab.
My job involved simulating the movements of kangaroo rats, and I was confronted with animal testing for the first time.
I felt an ethical misalignment with this work, which led me to go vegan, and I stepped out of this role.
I shifted my energy to environmental activism and travelled all over the U.S., working on grassroots campaigns for social and environmental causes.
In 2020, I began travelling in Africa, networking with start-ups, and learning about regenerative agriculture.
I have grown my network of hundreds of eco-entrepreneurs who are ready to collaborate and grow sustainable businesses.
I came across the first vegan restaurant in Kenya, founded in 2019, called Vegan Basket, and I first learned through them how much the vegan network in Africa needs support.
What I am passionate about is supporting community-led businesses across Africa and helping them network with the global vegan community through the Vegan Africa Fund.
Where are you based, and what prompted you to become vegan?
I consider myself a global citizen, and my home is between Mombasa, Kenya, and Las Vegas, USA.
I grew up in Vegas, eating a lot of animal products until someone very close to me was diagnosed with cancer.
Health experts showed us that adopting a vegan diet could help promote longevity and healing, so I went vegan and started cooking vegan for my loved one.
I began feeling compassionate for the animal rights movement after the job that showed me the inhumanity of animal testing first-hand.
Now, every day I wake up excited to live in this compassionate, earth-sustaining way.
Traditionally, Africans relied predominantly on a plant-based diet. How widespread and accessible is veganism in Kenya these days? Do you think that the vegan diet making a comeback?
I love Kenyan cuisine because it is incredibly vegan-friendly.
Coastal Kenyan food involves coconut cooked into dishes such as beans, rice, stew, plantain soup and eaten as coconut yoghurt or by itself.
I could take up the whole length of this article, writing about all of the vegan traditional African foods, including cashew, avocado, jackfruit-based, and grain-based meals.
In Kenya, it seems like a lot of the older generation is vegan by tradition – when I tell people I’m vegan, they are more likely to say that their grandmother is a vegan than they are a vegan.
In a recent post, you mentioned that a vegan Africa is the most sustainable way to the future. Can you expand on this?
I believe a vegan Africa is the most sustainable way to the future, and Africa is the next frontier of development.
There is limited infrastructure and industry on much of the continent, factory farming is at a minimum, and we can utilize many natural resources ethically.
However, adopting western lifestyles has resulted in a considerable economy importing meat and dairy from Europe and the rest of the world.
The first factory farms on the continent have recently emerged in Kenya, South Africa, and Nigeria.
Africa isn’t currently over-dependent on meat, and in the places that are, you see more “diseases of affluence” as well, including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Some parts of Africa see a vegan lifestyle as “poor man’s food.”
There is a misconception that one has to have meat on their plate to symbolize success.
We seek to disrupt this belief and show that health is wealth.
Many community-driven ventures are supporting a vegan lifestyle. We want to uplift them to become globally competitive.
In March this year, you founded the Vegan Africa Fund (Vegan AF). Can you tell us what it is and what is your mission? How important is it for you to be able to help vegan African businesses?
I founded the Vegan Africa Fund in early 2021 to address an investment gap in Africa.
We must empower more vegan businesses to have a chance at a sustainable future.
Investment is pouring into Africa right now, and unfortunately, much of this investment is into destructive industries – mining, drilling for oil, factory farming, monocropping – which have ruined the west.
Investors need an alternative, sustainable, secure way to invest in Africa, and there was no existing fund that invested explicitly in businesses in Africa until I founded Vegan AF.
I feel a strong desire to uplift vegan businesses in Africa and to help them participate in the growing vegan economy.
Projections show that the global vegan food market will grow over 500% in the next decade.
This growth represents a substantial wealth-creation opportunity for the companies who are there to capitalize on this shift.
However, early capital is needed for these businesses to become competitive, but there are limited ways to access this capital.
What problems can the Vegan AF help with, and what opportunities (if any)do you see in the sustainable / plant-based market?
Communities across Africa have a challenging time accessing funds, despite the vast natural resources.
Multinational corporations have been importing machinery and factories, extracting resources from Africa for decades, and very little of this infrastructure is owned or used by community-driven ventures.
Most small food-tech businesses are processing everything by hand, which is inefficient, and there is limited access to machinery to scale production.
There are so many opportunities in the plant-based market across Africa.
You can find local jackfruit, coconuts, cashews, cocoa, cassava, plantains, maize, beans, and other in-demand vegan ingredients on the continent.
Our vision focuses on empowering regenerative agriculture, alternative materials, and food technology businesses in Africa to process and manufacture vegan goods such as meat and dairy alternatives, vegan “leather” products, and packaged foods close to the source.
Currently, companies are exporting raw materials for low margins and importing costly foreign processed food across Africa.
We seek to help African-based companies export high-value products.
I am excited about innovation in fungi, from edible mushrooms to plastic-eating mushrooms to mushroom leather.
The most exciting companies to me are creating products that can give back to the earth in some ways, and profiting with impact is my passion.
You use investments in VAF impact tokens, the native cryptocurrency token of the Vegan AF Network, to support vegan ventures. Can you explain what a cryptocurrency token is and how your investment process works?
A cryptocurrency token is a digital asset on a blockchain-based network.
The blockchain is a ledger with a history recorded across a distributed network of computers which is generally unhackable, highly secure, and unchangeable.
The VAF crypto is eco-friendly: our parent network, Fantom, was named the most energy-efficient cryptocurrency.
Crypto uses energy, but some types use mining while others, like VAF, don’t.
The Vegan Africa Fund intends to support reforestation through food forests to offset the energy usage for all of our transactions.
Part of our operations strategy is to hold equity in the companies leading the vegan movement in Africa during the next decade.
When we invest in companies, we maintain a stake so that as their value grows, so does the value of VAF and the network.
To encourage the circular VAF economy, we enable businesses we partner with to accept VAFs from customers.
We will allow them to buy back a certain percentage of their company in VAFs with time.
How have the local communities and businesses received the Vegan Africa Fund?
The businesses in our network are generally ready to scale their operations but have limited access to venture capital or outside funding.
Almost all of the vegans in our community I have spoken with have thanked me for my work.
Each start-up founder realizes that fundraising is a daunting task, and my network has expressed gratitude for my building a fund for vegan businesses in Africa.
The global community coming together to support the vegan African community is imperative for the success of the vegan evolution.
What projects/businesses has the Vegan AF supported so far?
The Vegan Africa Fund launched with our initial support of Vegan Basket, a restaurant and wellness company based in Kilifi on the Kenya coast.
The restaurant provides 100% vegan options, where Vegan Basket produces alternative meat products like cashew cheese and vegan burger patties.
The Vegan Africa Fund invests with impact in mind, and 10% of our fund goes directly towards social impact.
Aside from investing in Vegan Basket’s expansion, we have endorsed the Vegan Society of Uganda and the Vegan UG Football team, two organizations that partake in vegan advocacy, and community environmental stewardship programs.
Furthermore, we have supported Chef Cola in Cape Town, South Africa, for the African cuisine cooking class, supporting the rural African Vegan On a Budget Zimbabwe women’s group.
The Vegan Africa Fund supports VegFest Morocco, a cultural festival celebrating the pan-African vegan movement, global community supporting vegans in Africa.
We’re encouraging businesses who want to get involved in Africa to join our network, which they can do through the apply link on our website.
Where do you see VAF in the future?
In the future, I see VAF enabling a thriving pan-African and global ecosystem for vegan African-produced trade.
Vegan Basket will be exporting products in exchange for VAFs.
Investors in Europe, Australia, Asia, and the Americas who supported us early on will be spending their VAFs at the businesses they helped to build, to export shipping containers full of sustainably sourced vegan products from Africa to the rest of the world.
I see VAF as one of the most impactful cryptocurrencies on the market, with investors from every part of the world supporting VAF.
Where can people find out more about investing in Vegan AF?
VAF has launched our pre-sale at $0.00001 per VAF.
To learn more about the VAF vision, you can read the white paper and the pitch deck.