As we reported on social media and in our sister publication www.perishablenews.com recently, two men with produce industry roots are embarking on The Great Fruit Adventure, a motorbike ride from London to Cape Town late next year. As the opening gambit in our support of their fundraising venture, which will raise invaluable cash for leading Africa-facing charity Farm Africa, PBUK caught up with one of the pair – Max MacGillivray – at Farm Africa’s office in central London. He tells us what lies behind the decision to spend three months on the dusty roads of the Mother Continent
In October 2016, MacGillivray, managing director of international executive recruitment and negotiation training consultancy Redfox, and his close friend Neil MacDonald, director of the Orchard Pig Company and a current Nuffield Scholar, will set off on their motorbikes from London. If they were crows, the journey from between the two cities would be almost exactly 6,000 miles (9,650km). But in the three months before they meet up with their families in Cape Town for Christmas, the aim is not to take the straightest route. Instead, it is to visit as many farming and fresh produce growers as they can on a journey that crosses first Spain, then Morocco, runs down the west coast of Africa to Nigeria, then involves a plane trip to Ethiopia, followed by a trek through several countries along the east coast of the continent.
The intrepid pair – who we are dubbing the MacBikers – aims to have a ‘Mother Ship’ in each country they traverse, where they can camp down for a night or two, re-energise themselves, their bikes and their kit, and pick up spares sent in advance to help them on their way. Aside the adventure, the trip has a serious three-pronged aim.
First, they are looking to film and report on the production of high quality healthy produce along the way – in order to educate and inform children around the world, as well as their schools and their families – of Africa’s role in the supply chain of fresh foods and highlight some of the inspirational people underpinning this industry. Second, they will be supporting the core aims of Farm Africa by raising awareness within Africa of the continent’s untapped potential to feed itself and create lasting prosperity for smallholders. Third, they hope to make the trip cost-neutral so they can raise money for Farm Africa, through corporate sponsorships from the food industry and beyond.
Search for support
MacGillivray has begun the search for contacts of growers in Africa to visit and film. “The positive publicity we have already generated has brought incredible feedback,” he says. “Already, we have been given huge numbers of grower contacts in just about every country we will be riding through. They have ranged from small organic farmers with 2 hectares to very large farmers and that’s exactly what we want. This is a very generous industry and a lot of companies in the UK have already been in touch offering help and support.
“We want to showcase the people behind the produce our children eat and show them not only how it’s grown but why it is so good for them and show the world that we have a sustainable supply chain in Africa,” he says. “We think this will help to bring produce to life for kids – who are generally not being inspired by the homogenous fruit on the homogenised shelves of retailers in this country and elsewhere in Europe.
“We are looking to present to schools in the UK, in the build up to the trip and will be calling on local produce suppliers or marketers to provide us with some fresh produce to sample when we do that,” he says.
“But what I must admit has dawned on us after we had hatched the idea is that there is an educational job to do in Africa too. Sixty per cent of the cultivable land in Africa is currently not being used to produce food. And add to that the fact that much of the food that the continent produces for international market – think sugar snap, mangetout, baby corn, for instance – is not part of the traditional cultural diets of the majority of the African population. I have been talking with Louise Labuschagne of Real IPM and she is doing some great work to try and change the diets of Africans, to make them healthier and introduce products that are being grown by their local growers. It’s a huge undertaking, but if we can support that kind of work in any way by doing what we’re doing, then we will.
“The urbanisation of many countries in Africa is also causing issues and there is educational and awareness building work to be done there too – to convince the young adults who are abandoning rural areas that it is possible to stay and prosper from the land. There is a real need for increased private sector investment in agriculture, to enable countries to realise the potential of the agriculture sector for economic growth and job creation, particularly among farmers, women and youth.”
The second of the MacBikers is Neil MacDonald, a current Nuffield Scholar, who is being sponsored by the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers to travel the world and study Orcharding Systems for the next decade. His project will take in trips to Australia and New Zealand, as well as orchard-dense parts of Europe and the USA.
MacDonald is a third generation Somerset farmer with a background in traditional mixed farming, who began to focus on orchards and cider fruit about nine years ago. He co-founded Orchard Pig, the cider and juice maker. His company now manages more than 800 acres of traditional Somerset orchards and offers workshops in cider making and in pruning and planting, as well as orchard tours throughout the year. Orchard Pig also works with local schools to encourage an understanding of how orchards are hugely important to wildlife and support a host of beneficial creatures.
Max’s wife Claire is a fellow director of Redfox and Neil’s wife Emma is also involved in the food business, as a founder of The Bay Tree Food Company. Both men have three children and Max admits that the seedling of the idea to bike across Africa was definitely borne of his own midlife crisis.
“I have always been vaguely interested in bikes, but I’m hardly a petrol head,” he says. “I got to the age when I thought it would be fun to get a bike to ride to work and back. It was a classic midlife crisis moment – I have the idyllic life with a lovely wife, children and a dog, but there was still something else niggling at me – I wanted to do something different and meaningful.”
Riding across Africa and visiting fresh produce growers to raise money for charity is certainly different and he found an ally in MacDonald when he least expected it. “Neil and I have been friends since we were at Harper Adams together; we were best men at each other’s weddings and we are godparents to each other’s kids. But when I began to tell him about my idea for the trip, the last thing I expected him to say was ‘I’m up for that, when do we start?’,” says MacGillivray.
A rugby ball and kit donated by the 90 kids in the junior teams at Bury St Edmunds rugby club – where MacGillivray is a member – will be carried along the route, to be distributed to a junior team in Cape Town when the bikers arrive at their final destination. MacDonald will do something similar, though with a busy life and 12 months still to go before they leave London, he can be forgiven for not having every last detail in place.
The project has its own website and social media links – see below – and PBUK will provide regular updates as The Great Fruit Adventure takes shape. More details of our link-up with Max, Neil and their charity partners will be revealed in the coming weeks and months. A partnership with an “educational partner” Odizzi will give another channel through which the films the pair produce while they travel are aired to the intended audience.
“We want to involve as many people as we possibly can in this and give them all some kind of involvement and especially for children, the chance to be involved is exciting and engaging, which will help us get these important messages across.”
It’s almost been said that a year is a long time in produce. You definitely get the impression that the next 12 months might just zoom by for the MacBikers.
Two more Farm Africa projects
1. Food for Good
Launched in 2011 as the food and hospitality industry’s response to the global issue of hunger, the Food for Good campaign has raised a phenomenal £1m for Farm Africa. Individuals and businesses across the industry have taken on tough physical challenges as well as baking cakes and wanging wellies for the cause. Just this month, Barfoots held a Moroccan Soiree to raise more valuable funds for Farm Africa, its chosen charity this year.
2. Choice of the beehive
Three days, nine women and 90 beehives to build. That was the challenge Farm Africa set in June this year, when Sainsbury’s Judith Batchelar led a group of senior women from the UK food industry to Tanzania to complete the 2015 ‘The Big Beehive Build’ challenge. Working alongside the Erri community in Tanzania the group built an apiary of Langstroth beehives to kick-start profitable and sustainable honey farming businesses for the Erri beekeeping group.
Contact details for the much less hairy bikers
Max and Neil will continue to look for key retailers, wholesalers, foodservice companies and food suppliers to become involved to help raise the publicity and the healthy eating aims of the trip. If you can help with their requests and to be part of this exciting journey to explore the world of fresh produce and farming in Africa, Max and Neil would be very keen to hear from you.
You can make contact with the MacBikers via their trip websites: