We sat down with Mr. Yusuke Saraya, the CEO of Saraya—Japan’s leading professional hygiene company—to discuss their economic investments and health initiatives in Africa.
Could you tell us about Saraya? Particularly how it started and what is Saraya today?
Saraya started in 1952 as the first manufacturer of hand sanitizer in Japan. At the time, because of widespread malnutrition and an unsanitary environment, epidemic diseases were rampant in the country. It was in reaction to this that Saraya established its goal to promote hand hygiene not only in Japan, but around the world. This tradition still continues today and is our motivation to invest in the African continent.”
For more than 60 years, Saraya has been the leading hand hygiene expert in Japan; could you tell us more about your business?
Our company is working in conjunction with consumers, businesses, and hospitals to guarantee the highest standards of hygiene. Our first line of business focuses on delivering eco-friendly products such as natural hand soaps and cosmetics to our clients to support healthy living lifestyles. Our second line provides cleaning and sanitizing products to companies to reduce the risk of cross-contamination and food-borne illnesses in public facilities and food processing environments. Our third line focuses on hospitals, to which we provide high-level disinfectants and sterilization services specially adapted to tackle the most resistant bacteria and guarantee a safe environment for patients.
In 2010, your company partnered with UNICEF to launch the “Wash A Million Hands!” project in Uganda to tackle infant mortality. A year later, you opened your first subsidiary in that country. What made you choose Uganda as your first destination for investment in Africa?
“At Gombe Hospital, half a year after the introduction of Sarya’s alcohol based hand rub, the attack rate for infectious diseases reached zero”
Similar to Japan’s situation in the 1950s, Uganda is coping with frequent infectious disease outbreaks and has a high infant mortality rate (99 in 1000). One of the major causes of infant mortality is the lack of sanitary measures in hospitals, making contagious diseases a life-threatening issue for both children and pregnant women. At Saraya, compelled by a sense of emergency, we established a subsidiary to produce alcohol based hand rubs. Uganda produces a large quantity of molasses, a byproduct of sugar production. We were able to use molasses to manufacture our alcohol based hand rub, which significantly contributed to the improvement of hand hygiene in Uganda. At Gombe Hospital, half a year after the introduction of our alcohol based hand rub, the attack rate for infectious diseases reached zero. We are proud of our successes in Uganda and are continuing our pursuit to encourage more people to practice proper hand-washing.
“We hope that this new infrastructure will fulfill the objectives of creating more jobs in Africa and ensure a sustainable future through the protection of the local environment”
The biggest hurdle that African governments are currently facing is job creation and attracting foreign companies to invest in Africa. In what way does Saraya contribute to Africa’s development?
At Saraya, we are aiming to empower local people and ensure the protection of the environment. It is for this reason that we are now investing heavily in the natural cosmetic market. In Tunisia and Egypt, we are working hand in hand with local farmers for the cultivation of bitter oranges and jojoba fruits that we then process to create essential oils for our cosmetic line. Regarding future investments, we are planning to build a jojoba oil-processing factory in Egypt.
We mainly chose to invest in Egypt for two reasons: the first is that Egypt is located at the nexus between Africa and the Middle East. The second reason is that Egypt’s dry and hot climate is favorable for growing jojoba. We hope that this new infrastructure will fulfill the objectives of creating more jobs in Africa and ensure a sustainable future through the protection of the local environment.
In 2018, your company was approached by JICA to develop a cold chain route in Cambodia. Last year, MAFF in Japan asked you to reiterate your achievement by developing a 1000km cold chain route between Kenya and Uganda. Would you like to say a few words about it?
The lack of reliable and adequate cold chain facilities in Africa is one of the leading causes of losses of perishable products. Cold chains in Africa are still poorly developed and the transportation of fresh products remains difficult. Our company established a 1000km cold chain connecting the coastal city of Mombasa in Kenya to the city of Kampala in Uganda. We caught fresh tuna in Mombasa, froze it, and delivered it to restaurants in Kampala. We felt a great sense of accomplishment when we saw Kampala citizens consuming fresh fish from more than 1000 km away from the sea. In Uganda, to contribute to the Japanese restaurant Yamasen’s business expansion project, we used our rapid freezer to process food, which allowed for long distance transportation. This was a trial project and we are currently doing more research to implement it on a large scale. In the long term, we hope that the improvement of cold chains in Africa will lead to a reduction of food loss and improve consumer’s access to a wide range of foods.
In terms of pure return on investment, do you believe that the African market is a promising market for Saraya?
I believe so because we have converging needs. The African population is booming and is experiencing the increasing need for proper hygiene and health care. On the other hand, our company’s mission is to promote hygiene in the world. This convergence gives us the potential to work together.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for Japanese companies that are considering investing in Africa?
I think distance is the biggest difficulty for investment. Africa is too remote for Japanese companies, which inhibits their decision to invest. In general, Japanese companies will first start investing in China, then India, and only after that will they consider going further, so distance is one obstacle. However, we notice that with the multiplication of gatherings in support for Africa’s development, such as TICAD, things are changing and Japan and Africa are moving towards closer relations, which is a good sign.
What are your thoughts on China’s presence in Africa?
I think that having a Chinese presence is a good thing. Chinese companies have developed an extensive infrastructure network on the continent, which we can use with them to contribute to Africa’s development.
What do you expect from TICAD 7?
At Saraya, we are always looking for the right people with whom we can take on new projects. I believe that TICAD 7 is an opportunity to find the right partners and keep moving forward. We need bridges between Japan and Africa to help us understand each other and work together because both countries are pursuing common goals.