U.S. Virgin Islanders are venturing more and more into the agricultural industry within the USVI and abroad. Tariq Abdul-Akbar recently shared why he decided to move to Tanzania and start Firdous Biotech, a company that produces fertilizers for use in organic farming.
“We create organic fertilizers and agricultural inputs,” said Abdul-Akbar of his year-old fertilizer business.
He currently has three products he uses to produce crops daily and continues to develop new ones to meet the nutritional demand of crops. One of his fertilizers was produced from renewable resources and contains about 50 percent phosphorus, a key ingredient that creates healthy crops. Another uses seaweed as its main ingredient and took Abdul-Akbar a longer time to develop.
“One of them took me about a year of development. The other one came to me quick, after just a few tries,” said Abdul-Akbar. He added that “The one that I made from seaweed, which is called a bio-stimulant, took me about a year to develop just to the point where it is right now. But the other took just a few months.”
The young entrepreneur gives credit to a dream for the speedy development of his latest fertilizer recipe.
Abdul-Akbar is a 29-year-old Virgin Islander who was motivated to relocate to Tanzania in 2020 in his quest to establish his footprint in agriculture. He said that the opportunity to work for the Tanzanian government, as well as their land resources and access to raw materials, were the main reasons he moved.
“Raw materials weren’t as available in the U.S.,” he said. “Tanzanians live in an agrarian society. You carry out these things on a larger scale and can be much more pocket friendly.”
Abdul-Akbar mentioned that he always had an interest in agriculture. As a young child, growing up on St. Thomas and later graduating from high school in Baltimore, Maryland, he would frequently center his school science fair projects on plants and making fertilizers for his experiments to grow. He said he was inspired by the plants in the yards of his grandparents. Now, Abdul-Akbar can see his science fair projects develop into business opportunities.
Making fertilizer, however, is not the only business he tested the waters with. Before he began experimenting with fertilizers, Abdul-Akbar exported goods. In 2018, he began earning his master’s degree in international trade and commerce law from Macquarie University in Australia, anticipating the degree would assist him with starting his business. A year later, he began traveling to Tanzania to begin work in agricultural production and exportation. That’s when he began producing horticultural crops and collecting spices to export, which he still does today.
Abdul-Akbar focuses solely on coffee, cacao beans, and spices to export. However, he grows other commodities such as sweet potatoes, onions, avocados, and mangos. He even began cultivating sea moss and fairly recently, added it to his list of exported goods, which he sells by container loads. The young entrepreneur envisions being able to export more products to assist with food security in local markets.
“I have a vision in the future whereas, once we harvest our sweet potatoes, we’ll make sweet potato powder. That way we’ll be able to preserve it longer for domestic consumption or to import it into the U.S.,” he said.
Abdul-Akbar said he was eager to share some of his story in an effort to inspire other Virgin Islanders to get into the agricultural industry.
“Knowing the situation there with agriculture, I want to do something back home to improve food security,” said Abdul-Akbar. He added that he wants to “encourage the youth to go into agriculture because it is a major economic opportunity when most of the food is imported and there is no major commercial agriculture activity going on in the Islands.”
In April, Abdul-Akbar’s company was nominated as an Island Innovation Awards finalist, a global award that was presented in partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative. Fridous Biotech was acknowledged as being a Sustainable Company during the 2022 Island Finance Forum. However, another company captured the Sustainable Company of the Year Award instead.