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about

Yolélé was founded in 2017 to create economic opportunity for smallholder farming communities; to support biodiverse, regenerative, and resilient food systems; and to share Africa’s ingredients and cuisines with the world.

“Sharing culture through food has always been my driving passion, and YolÉlÉ was created in that spirit.” — Pierre Thiam

Our

purpose

Yolélé is changing conditions for rural West African smallholder farmers. This population is among the world’s most vulnerable. Many young people seeking job opportunities simply leave – often to overcrowded cities where jobs are hard to find or risk their lives on the dangerous path towards Europe.

Simply buying more of West Africa’s oldest cereal grain helps to alleviate extreme poverty, but we’re going a step further to truly unlock opportunity and transform communities in the West African Sahel.

Economic opportunity

Most people in West Africa rely on farming to survive, but they don’t have access to markets. In West African villages, you often see women by the side of the road hoping to sell their day’s harvest, but not enough customers to make a living. These farming communities face extreme poverty and a challenging path towards economic security.

At Yolélé, we’re connecting smallholder farmers—mainly women—with local and global markets so they can support themselves from agriculture while increasing food sovereignty in the region.

Resilient Food Systems

Smallholder farmers in West Africa (like everywhere else in the world) have always relied on biodiverse crop systems that are well-suited to the region’s hot arid climate and poor soil. They employ regenerative techniques like intercropping, cover-cropping, and crop rotation. Unfortunately, most development funding in West Africa goes towards chemical-intensive, monocropped farm systems that focus on crops from the Global North.

At Yolélé, we are creating a market for traditional crops grown under these resilient farming systems in order to foster a more biodiverse, drought-tolerant landscape across West Africa. Devoting more land to this kind of farming has the potential to regenerate and regreen the Sahel.

African Food Around the World

“As in many cultures, food in Senegal is never only to nourish the body: it’s an act of sharing, of showing your love toward others, and bringing people together.” – Pierre Thiam.

The ingredients and cuisine of Africa are nourishing, deep, and bright… and at turns funky-fermented, spicy, and vegetable-forward. One taste of egusi, jollof fonio, or efo riro and you’ll get what we mean.

Africa’s vibrant flavors, ingredients, and food ways deserve a spotlight and a place on tables around the world. That’s where Yolélé comes in.

Supply chain

Even when West African farmers can get fonio to market, they face two key problems that prevent them from making money. One is a lack of processing capacity, and the other is low agricultural productivity.

At Yolélé, we’re building processing facilities in West Africa that can turn plants into food to be sold locally and globally. We’re also collaborating with governments, intergovernmental agencies, and NGO’s to train and equip smallholders for increased productivity through conservation farming.

What does Yolélé mean?

Yolélé is a Fulani term of exuberance used throughout West and Central Africa.
It roughly translates to “Let the Good Times Roll” (or, like in New Orleans, “Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!”). People shout out “Yolélé!” to get parties started and people dancing.

At Yolélé, we celebrate the ingredients and food traditions of Africa:
the continent central to humanity’s origins– and its future.

The Fulani people are the world’s largest nomadic group, living across government-drawn country lines. Like the Fulani, Yolélé aspires to transcend borders, bringing African culture to all.

The

Team

Pierre Thiam

Co-Founder + President

Pierre Thiam is a celebrated chef, restaurateur, award-winning cookbook author, and entrepreneur. Born and raised in Senegal, he is known for his innovative cooking style, at once modern and eclectic yet rooted in the rich culinary traditions of West Africa. He is the chef and owner of critically acclaimed Harlem, NY restaurant Teranga, which serves fast-casual West African fare directly sourced from farmers in the region. Pierre is the author of three cookbooks including his latest, The Fonio Cookbook, released in October 2019. He has won numerous awards and accolades for his cooking and advocacy. He is on the board of directors for two global nonprofits, IDEO.org and SOS Sahel.

Philip Teverow

Co-Founder + CEO

Phil Teverow is a food industry veteran who pioneered the introduction of unusual ingredients (including quinoa, in the 1980’s!) to the US as the director of the Dean & DeLuca brand for thirteen years, during the company’s rise from owner-operated shop to multinational retailer. As a consultant for food entrepreneurs for nearly 20 years, Phil has worked with culinary stars like Marcus Samuelsson as well as international food manufacturers seeking to expand their audience globally. He has mentored dozens of food entrepreneurs over the years through community organizations. Phil and Pierre met on the street in Brooklyn in the early 2000’s.

Claire Alsup

Director of Business Development

Claire Alsup has a passion for sharing foodways and fostering a more equitable and sustainable global food system. With a background in restaurant management and as a co-founder of two food hall restaurant stalls, she believes large-scale change can be accomplished through relationships and sharing food. She has gained experiences in the industry through diverse roles, from a travel-tech startup to non-profit culinary education to food justice podcasting. Claire holds a Master’s in Food Studies from NYU and a BA in English and Political Science from Tulane University.

Gemma Simko

Marketing Manager

Gemma Simko is a marketing professional dedicated to bringing the stories of chefs, restaurants, and food brands to life. With degrees in both Marketing Communications from Emerson College and Culinary Arts from The New School of Cooking, Gemma’s creative insight and project management skills are unique to her experience both in the kitchen and the office. At Yolélé, Gemma brings her strategic and creative skills to product campaigns, content creation, events marketing, and more.

Jason Chan

Sales Manager

Food has always been the center of Jason’s life. He spent most of his childhood roaming the kitchen at his family’s restaurant. Jason has worked in high-end and casual restaurants cooking sweet and savory food, as a bread baker, caterer, whole animal butcher, food service consultant, and in food sales. At Yolélé, Jason introduces Yolélé fonio to retail and food service outlets, with a focus on new products.