Interview with Marcelo Cedeño, founder of Wará

Today in our new weekly interview series with our Community members we would like to introduce you Marcelo Cedeño, the founder of project Wará. 

How did you come up with your Project? What are your main inspirations? What is the goal of your Project?

As I studied abroad 2 years in Barcelona I wanted to come back to my home country – Ecuador, to develop a project in which I would create a unique product with a high-value proposition in which I would help all the small farmers of the country to export their products to international markets.As my last jobs in Ecuador before going to Barcelona were aimed in helping farmers reducing costs of production and exporting high value-added products to other markets, I asked myself why not apply the same principle to the project I had in mind, so that’s how everything started. There are many social and economic problems in Ecuador nowadays, many farmers are migrating to the big cities looking for better opportunities; which are not easy to find, so they are leaving the rural areas isolated because working in agriculture is not feasible at all if they can’t commercialize the crops they produce. In one of my trips around Ecuador, I found that the Amazon is one of the regions with really high potential but the Government hasn’t put any effort to create a sustainable development of all the amazing things that can be found there. There are many native plants and a lot of cultural knowledge from the Amazonian indigenous tribes that with the time are losing their identities and the new generations are migrating to the cities. In this journey I found out the benefits of an extraordinary plant that can help these people develop and conserve their cultural identity; the name of this plant is Guayusa. Guayusa (Ilex guayusa) is an endemic tree from the Ecuadorian, Colombian and Peruvian Amazon and its related to another tree very well known in South American countries; which is Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis). Through the combination of indigenous knowledge, scientific research progress and technologies, Wará in collaboration with Kichwa communities from Ecuador, have targeted the production of Guayusa towards a final tea product that will be marketed internationally. Aiming more markets internationally will have the scope of contributions towards creating job opportunities for indigenous people; specially women and empower them to maintain the production of Guayusa, so all the consumers can take advantage of the nutritional benefits of this leaf, and conserve a native agroforestry system called Chakras (which are particular, indigenous agroforestry systems of the western Amazon that satisfies nutritional, medicinal and spiritual requirements for local indigenous populations), strengthening them with native species, such as Guayusa. This will strongly contribute to the sustainable development of the livelihoods of the indigenous communities, and the conservation of the Amazon forest (which is well known to be the “lungs of the modern world”). We chose the name Wará, which is stated in Kichwa language and it means, “star”; as women are the stars of the Chakras and in the Kichwa families overall. We work with 257 Kichwa families and 70% of the producers are women that protect their cultural identity and respect the Amazon Agroforestry system.

My main inspiration was the fact that Ecuador is a really unique country, with lots of diversity related to plants, animals and nature than any other country could have; due to its geographic position in the world, which is in the Equator line. This is an advantage mainly because we have only 2 seasons (summer and rainy season), so we can produce any type of crop the whole year and also it’s a unique ecosystem so it can give the products a distinctive taste and flavor. Moreover, I would like to create consciousness of all the nutritional benefits this leaf has. Guayusa is a rare, naturally caffeinated herbal infusion produced from the leaves of a holly tree native to the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador. It has been part of Amazonian culture and cultivation for over 2000 years, treasured for its unique balance of caffeine, antioxidants, vitamins, amino acids, and its energizing effect that is similar to that of coffee and yerba mate. Unlike coffee or other energy drinks, Guayusa provides balanced energy without the jitters or the sudden crash commonly associated with caffeinated drinks. Its catechins provide a slow release of caffeine for awake and sustainable energy. This gentler and more sustainable caffeine release is said to create mental strength and focus rather than a caffeine buzz. Guayusa tea offers as much caffeine as coffee but they also typically contain 50% more anti-oxidants than green tea. Tests performed by independent institutions and universities have proved Guayusa teas to be an important source of phenolic compounds with cellular anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Finally, it’s clear to mention that Guayusa has excellent performance as a food ingredient as it blends important quantities of theobromine (also found in dark chocolate), theophylline, vitamins C & D, potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, chromium, caffeine and 15 different amino acids.

What are your main difficulties or obstacles to develop your Project? What was the most challenging problem in the past and how did you solve it?

The main obstacles nowadays are trying to promote international markets that are willing to accept a product which they are not familiar with, it’s challenging in my case to travel to Europe and have 3 full weeks of creating this type of awareness and knocking from door to door, leaving samples, telling people about the product. But it will be a remarkable challenge that I’m willing to run and take risks!

How do you keep motivated and how do you plan your daily tasks? Do you use any tools?

All the companies nowadays think more in the “what they are doing or creating”, but the companies should ask their selves “why they are doing what they are doing or creating”. That’s the main purpose of the existence of a new company, so what keeps me motivated is knowing the fact that the main reason of why I’m doing it, its because I want to contribute to the development of my country; and specially with the people that needs the most, in this case the small indigenous farmers. Every day is a challenge, especially when you are trying to run a new business, but with the right amount of perseverance and will to do it, all the obstacles in the way are held down eventually.

Which are the books or courses that you learned a lot from?

I have watched lots of TED TALKS videos about entrepreneurship. It has helped me a lot watching what other people have done in the past and try to avoid those mistakes in the future.

What are you currently looking for your business or Project?

I’m looking for acceptance of my product in the European market, initially setting it with tea houses, wholesalers, retailers in Spain; especially in big cities as Madrid and Barcelona. I know that whenever people will start trying it, they will fall in love with it eventually.

What do you do outside of your Project – your hobbies?

I love to climb mountains here in Ecuador, doing adventure sports such as climbing, mountain biking. I enjoy being outside in nature with all the beautiful landscapes that Ecuador has to offer.

Share your social media channels so other members can follow you.

Instagram: @marcecedeno89

I will develop an Instagram account for Wará after coming back from my business trip to Europe.

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