I call a 238 square mile island whose shores are washed by the Caribbean Sea, home. This little island is home to some of the world’s most attractive accommodations, beaches and sights for local and tourist pleasure. My island home is Saint Lucia and in 2019, our prime foreign revenue earner is tourism.
If you take a drive along the east coast of said island, you are likely to encounter some very warm people but from about half a mile into the district of Praslin, your nostrils will also begin to encounter a scent. It smells a bit like rotten eggs and if you’re unfamiliar with the island, you may venture to think that you’re truly on the West Coast, inhaling the healing sulphuric scents from our world famous drive-in volcano, Soufriere. You would be wrong. In this instance, the culprit is none other than Sargassum Seaweed. And Saint Lucia isn’t the only island suffering.
Since 2014, the islands of the Caribbean have had to endure the accommodation of unmanageable amounts of Sargassum seaweed on their shores and in their waters, killing marine life, limiting the livelihoods of fishermen, and tainting their much coveted tourism products: their beaches. But this is only one side of the coin.
On the other side of the coin, a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report shows that in 2011, the Countries which make up CARICOM surpassed a mark of $4.25 billion US dollars in food imports. This means that $4.25 billion US dollars of Caribbean countries’ finances are sent to foreign markets to secure their food. It could not be more clear that the region is tasked to develop ways and means to secure its food at home.
Johanan Dujon, with his company Algas Organics is looking to solve these problems with a double-edged sword: a product that seeks to make use of the products of Mother Nature’s temper, and increase yield for farmers who use it, there by contributing to the increasing security of food at home.
Take a peek at his interview.
What is your company name and what products/services does it provide?
Algas Organics specializes in the formulation and production of organic agricultural inputs using Caribbean biodiversity. We also offer Sargassum seaweed management services to regional governments and other organizations, whereby incoming influxes are converted into our flagship product the Total Plant Tonic and sold to the local, regional and international markets.
If you were headlining a UN event or TED Talk, how would you love to hear/see your company introduced?
Algas Organics is the Caribbean’s first indigenous biotech manufacturing company. The company firmly believes that the missing link to answering the 9.7 billion question of feeding the world’s projected population by 2050 lies in Caribbean biodiversity, and thus far they have been right.
Algas Organics has successfully developed the formulation for its flagship product the Total Plant Tonic, using invasive Sargassum seaweed species. Through proprietary extraction technology, the all natural Total Plant Tonic provides a rich blend of growth hormones and micronutrients to plants, stimulating root growth which shadows international industry leaders. With deeper root systems, plants are better able to access water and nutrients present in the soil, improving climate resilience and yield.
Do you have any co-founders and/or notable team members?
Although I am the sole founder of Algas Organics, my family makes up the majority of my team members (Daryl Dujon, Irene Dujon, George Dujon). They are absolutely amazing.
Where is your company located?
Dennery, St. Lucia
What inspired the birth of this company?
The Sargassum seaweed problem affecting St. Lucia and the wider Caribbean in 2014 spurred me on to create Algas Organics. When faced with challenges, whether environmental or otherwise, it is my personal ethos to find the opportunity and exploit it. I wanted to prove that rather than sitting and complaining about challenges, a solution could be created which would revolutionize agriculture not just locally, regionally and internationally.
How would you say your company answers any one of the Caribbean’s problems?
From its inception, Algas Organics has sought out to answer/solve three seemingly disjointed but connected problems in the Caribbean; the Sargassum seaweed problem, improving food security in the face of climate change and the importation of toxic agricultural chemicals.
Sargassum seaweed has been a persistent problem in the Caribbean since 2011, but increased in severity starting in 2014. This natural phenomenon has been stated as a “natural disaster” by Tobago, and has wreaked havoc on the fishing and tourism industry across the Caribbean (OECS & CARICOM).
By utilizing this “problem” to create organic agricultural inputs which can increase crop production, improve climate resilience (food security) and reduce the usage of harmful imported agrochemicals, we are indeed answering some of the Caribbean’s most challenging problems.
What would you say has been your greatest challenge as a company thus far and how have/did you overcome it or how are you working to overcome it?
Easily our greatest challenge has been managing growth and cash flow in St. Lucia as we scale. We have experienced tremendous growth in the local market year on year. However, the market is small and so there is not the critical mass necessary to grow the bottom line. To remedy this, we have begun exporting to larger markets, which has been quite successful.
What would you say has been your greatest triumph/achievement as a company thus far?
Above it all, I would say developing and implementing our idea to manage Sargassum seaweed influxes and using it to consistently produce a product that people love, not just in St. Lucia but in other territories as well. This was always our vision. All of the awards and recognition locally, regionally and internationally are great, but this has by far been our greatest triumph.
What would be your advice to other Caribbean entrepreneurs? (This could be broad or industry specific)
Keep broadening your mind by reading. It’s amazing to hear Mark Cuban and Warren Buffet talk about reading vacations and things of the sort. Don’t read for reading sake, if you want to strengthen for example strategic planning in your organization, a book like Blue Ocean Strategy could really add some value and give some refreshing insights. Get your notepad and scribble down what you believe can be tweaked and applied to your business, you’d be amazed by what you come up with.
Ask for help. We were in the throes of a real problem internally, and only solved it when we asked for help. This could have killed us in 2017.
Partnership is important, but selecting the right partner is priceless. Too often we shy away from partnership in the region, and rightfully so sometimes. Always go in with your eyes open, plan for worst case and most importantly, select the right partner. Whether they are bringing $10M to the table or $10, ensure that their ethos lines up with yours, and they add value (ensure that you add value also).
Do you have a vision for entrepreneurship in the Caribbean? What are some of the things that you would like to see encouraged and/or discouraged in the region?
I want us as entrepreneurs to think bigger. Apart from that, the chips will always fall where they may.
The Man Behind The Company
Country of Birth
Country of Residence
What are the three books that have greatly influenced your life?
Rich Dad Poor Dad, Richest Man in Babylon, Outliers.
What recent purchase of yours has most positively impacted your life?
Suction and discharge hose for our water pump. It saves 1 hour every time we transfer product.
How has a failure of yours set you up for later success?
The first seaweed product we produced was taken off the shelf by the Bureau of Standards due to poor labelling and even before that, nobody bought it. This taught me that you need to do the groundwork in the field before putting a product on a shelf.
What is a quote that you think of often or live your life by?
When you want something, the universe conspires to give it to you.
What is one of the most worthwhile investments that you have made?
Investing in Algas Organics.
In the past three years what belief, behaviour or habit has most improved your life?
A combination of introspective questions (what am I doing right, where can I improve, Am I where I want to be now? If not what should I be doing), Positivity- believing genuinely that all things work together for your good and perseverance.
What advice would you give to a Caribbean school leaver about braving the uniqueness of the Caribbean environment? What advice should they ignore?
Ignore the pressure of rushing off to university or getting stuck in a dead-end job because everyone else is doing it. Take time to understand what your passion is, what you really dislike, where you want to be and where you don’t want to be. These are your compasses, which will guide your decisions going forward.
When you feel overwhelmed/ unfocused what do you do?
Always Introspection & self-talk; I look back at all the previous challenges I have overcome, and remind myself that I didn’t come this far to give up. I then proceed to either sleep, pray or play FIFA. One of them helps. Then refocus.
Who is your most inspirational figure? What about their life, habits or model have inspired you?
A mixture of Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk. Each one of them has built amazing companies from the ground up, and have faced some of what I am facing now. That’s pure inspiration.