Zero-interest loan boosts Eagle startup Koborewa Corn Meal

By Ken Levy//September 20, 2023//

Koborewa Corn Meal

Emmanuel Nkurunziza of Koborewa Corn Meal is working two acres of African corn near Eagle. (Photo: Ken Levy)

Zero-interest loan boosts Eagle startup Koborewa Corn Meal

By Ken Levy//September 20, 2023//

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The Sun Valley Institute for Resilience Impact Idaho Fund has provided a $22,000 zero-interest loan to a Boise-based producer of African corn varieties.

Koborewa Corn Meal, a new production and milling operation founded by farmer Emmanuel Nkurunziza, will use the funds to purchase milling and packaging equipment to help it produce traditional corn meal during its startup phase.

Koborewa planted their first corn crop in May and intends to harvest by the end of September. The corn will dry for two months before milling will begin in November. Nkurunziza said he is growing high-quality, fresh organic corn varieties for products such as FUFU, kauga and kinazi on two acres in Eagle. He estimates he could produce about two tons of cornmeal. He is working with a friend, he said, and sometimes their wives help out.

The production of this meal fills a gap in the Boise market for members of the African Diaspora and Latinx communities demanding high-quality, traditional corn meal that replicates the flavor of their traditional cuisines, according to Mike Gordon, spokesman for the SVIR, in a release.

“The $22,000 zero interest loan funded the purchase of a grain mill, packaging supplies, storage containers, a ventilation system, scales, and a computer,” said Amy Rose Mattias, executive director of the SVIR.

Koborewa Corn Meal will prepare the corn meal to sell directly to consumers via regional farmers markets, community-supported agriculture (CSAs) and an online store, among other channels.

Mattias said remaining funds will go toward business operations, “primarily focusing on getting the product to market.”

Koborewa worked with Boise’s Global Gardens, which helped secure the land access in Eagle for growing the corn and for the milling operation at the food-hub facility they manage. Global Gardens is a Boise-based refugee farm organization.

Nkurunziza is from landlocked Burundi, one of the world’s poorest countries. About 90 percent of its agriculture is subsistence farming. He farmed on his parents’ garden before managing his own business in a Tanzanian refugee camp. He moved that business in Malawi before immigrating to the U.S. in 2013.

Koborewa uses traditional farming techniques, including sustainable and organic practices, and cottage-style milling operations to ensure workers are safe, honored and earn fair wages, which are all part of the criteria SVIR looks at for determining eligibility for the IIF loan.

“Koborewa is an ideal portfolio company for the Impact Idaho Fund. Their growing practices respect and restore the soil, their business model puts the rights and wellbeing of workers first, and their production fills a gap for a culturally important food,” said Catherine Rotchford, chief investment officer for the IIF. “We are confident that this zero-interest loan to Koborewa will lead to the successful launch and expansion of Emmanuel’s business.”

Nkurunziza said he is inviting other immigrants “to join me in agriculture to produce enough corn” to expand his business and offer his cornmeal to sell to “the big store markets,” as well as to purchase much-needed equipment. He uses traditional hoes to harvest the corn, one stalk at a time, and the added help—both in labor and equipment—would be most welcome.

Nkurunziza said expanding his business will require additional land, technical and financial support, and enough storage. He also grows peas, African eggplant, potatoes and Mchicha, a green, leafy vegetable also known as amaranthus or pigweed. African eggplant is a staple in African cuisines.

Mattias said most of the funding for the IIF comes from individual philanthropic donations or program-related investments with zero-interest repayments made within a set time period. Koborewa’s loan will be repaid in 2028.

Funds are recirculated into the capital pool and will be made available for future loans.

While SVIR is physically located in the Wood River Valley, Mattias said, various programs, including the Impact Idaho Fund and the Local Food Alliance, work across all of southern Idaho.

“Given our current focus on food systems, we recognize that the food system of the Wood River Valley is reliant on farmers, ranchers, and entrepreneurs throughout the entire region,” she said. “Limiting our work to the Wood River Valley would impede our ability to be impactful across the entire food system.”

To date, IIF funds have been loaned to companies in Ada, Elmore, Lincoln and Blaine counties, and the SVIR and would consider funding companies throughout the state.

“While we strive to maintain an open application portal, we also are considerate of the needs of potential borrowers, and will only accept applications when we have an available pool of funding capital,” Mattias said “As we are currently fundraising to increase our availability of lendable capital, we are not accepting applications. We hope to open our application portal again this fall or early winter. Businesses and entrepreneurs who are interested in working with us are welcome to reach out and begin conversations despite the official application portal not being open at this time.”

IIF was launched in 2020 with all the pilot funds, about $385,000, distributed by the end of 2022. Besides Koborewa, Ironwood Mycology received funding in 2023, paid for with additional capital raised beyond the original pilot.

“We are currently seeking funds to increase our available capital and to ensure the longevity of the Impact Idaho Fund,” Mattias said.

Those interested in financial support for the IIF can contact Mattias at [email protected]. For additional information visit sunvalleyinstitute.org/impactidahofund. SVIR is incorporated as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Donations are tax deductible.

Nkurunziza can be contacted at [email protected].