LISA AND ZOE PAISLEY
LISA & ZOE PAISLEY, 24, are on a mission to have a positive impact on society. The twin sisters have started 'Aggie Global' - a food supply chain with a difference. A passion for the outdoors turned into careers in agriculture, but through overseas travel the girls were exposed to a broken supply system within the industry. Since then they've taken it upon themselves to fix the problems they encountered and are creating a futuristic farming experience. Aggie Global hasn't been without it's challenges but together the Paisley twins are changing the agricultual supply scene.
TOM DUNN: Who are Lisa and Zoe Paisley?
LISA PAISLEY: I am one half of the Paisley Twins and the cofounder of a social business called Aggie Global. Both my twin, Zoe, and myself are easy going introverts on a mission to alleviate poverty and provide food security in rural communities around the world.
ZOE PAISLEY: Yeah that pretty much sums it up! We’ve always loved being outside and curious, so when it came to choosing a career, we wanted to do something that was crucial to society and had positive impact. And when you look at it, everyone needs agriculture to eat food, so that's what we focused on and what led us to agricultural development.
TD: In your own words what is Aggie Global?
LP: Aggie Global is a social business creating a virtuous food supply chain. We use ecommerce to help businesses buy from local farmers to boost local economies and farmer income. A big part of what we do is showcase the farmers behind the food, and share their stories with our customers whilst coordinating a single order that sources food from multiple farmers.
ZP: We realised that we didn’t want to just educate farmers about farming practices, when they weren’t ready to implement commercial practices. So instead of educating farmers, we went into the marketing direction, where we help farmers access new markets to increase their income.
TD: What led to AggieGlobal’s creation? Was there a standout issue you saw, a lightbulb moment, that made you think ‘I need to make a difference’?
LP: Part of it was how we were brought up. We travelled a fair bit when we were young and also had a bit of exposure to agriculture, like riding brumbies when we were toddlers. As we grew up we noticed how crucial it was going to be for agriculture to adapt to changing climates, which became a real driver for our career choice.
ZP: The other part was doing a work placement in developing countries and seeing first hand what was happening. The first few farm visits were a little confronting, seeing farmers and their families living in shacks with very limited resources to grow their plants and seeing how different farming was in Laos and Fiji, compared to Australia. Then conducting our first workshop and seeing the changes that the farmers implemented on their farms, to increase their yields and improve sales, really motivated us to keep going and make something substantial with our knowledge and opportunities in Fiji. Our first workshop increased the farmers’ income by 3x, and seeing that impact from really small changes, was really our lightbulb moment.
TD: On your website you mention that you want to bring transparency to the food supply chain, and bring trust back into broken systems. For those who are unaware, what are those breaks and how does Aggie Global repair them?
LP: As with most industries, agriculture is hugely complex, and the success of a farmer is affected by so many things. The biggest challenges we are addressing in the food supply chain is the cost price squeeze. This is effectively where farmers are charged a really low price for their produce, then middlemen increase the price of the food by up to 5x. On the buyer and consumer end, they are demanding lower prices, meaning that eventually farmers are selling produce at a loss..
ZP: To put things into perspective, a farmer in Fiji will produce 1L of milk at a cost of $1 and sell it to buyers at 84c. So essentially the farmer is making a loss of 16c per litre of milk sold. This isn’t profitable nor sustainable. At Aggie Global, we let our farmers dictate the price of their produce, to give them more power when marketing their products. By buying local we are also addressing other aspects of sustainability by helping people support their local communities and reduce environmental degradation associated with high food miles. The online profiles of farmers is another way in which we showcase the farmer’s story and create transparency. We highlight the challenges farmers face everyday and aim to show where buyers; money goes and how that helps farmers meet their personal or farming goals.
TD: You work with both suppliers and buyers. Has it been easy to bring them together? Are both sides equally supportive of your vision?
LP: Hahaa nope, I wouldn’t say it has been easy! But that’s business - if it was easy, everyone would do it.
ZP: Yeah it’s hard but it’s about finding the lowest hanging fruit and growing demand on both sides of the market. We focused on getting the farmers on board because a large part of the problem in Fiji, is that buyers don’t know what is locally available, so we are helping them understand the seasonality of local produce. Our first farmers had niche products like edible flowers, honey or dilo nuts. We would present these to buyers and they would get really excited about this produce that they haven’t been able to find locally yet.
LP: But as we gain more of a presence in Fiji, we are getting more and more people asking us to find xyz producers, so then we reach out to our farmer network and see who can help us fulfil the order. It’s a really fascinating dynamic but having open communication and setting realistic expectations with everyone involved is key.
TD: With technology developing so fast, and reaching so far, a lot of small community traditions are getting left behind. Would it be correct to say that Aggie Global is essentially a local farmers market of the future?
LP: I don’t think it is necessarily a farmers market of the future, because, with Covid-19, many other farmers are taking the initiative to go online. But I do think it is a totally new concept for many farmers in both developed and developing countries and many of the things that make Aggie Global stand out, are because not everyone is looking into creating that future. We have seen that many farmers are taking the initiative to go online themselves, however, you can’t always buy these products online OR there is a group of farmers online but you have to manually compare their produce and individually order from each farmer, which is super time consuming if you are a business who is bulk buying.
ZP: In saying that, we don’t want to build a future where traditional practices are lost or where we lose that connection to people behind the food. Aggie Global is all about helping to create a connection between people, place and food, by leveraging technology. Although we promote technology to help us create a more efficient food supply chain, we do encourage smallholder farmers to retain their traditional farming practices as best they can.
TD: Growing up on the outskirts of Sydney (Australia’s largest urban area) is a stark contrast to farmlands in Fiji. During your childhood what connected you to the land and how can others escape suburbia and discover a passion for agriculture?
ZP: It is quite different in lifestyles, and we always appreciate Sydney and what we have at home more whenever we return from Fiji. But then we do also miss Fiji when we are in Sydney. I guess it stemmed from growing up with some land (5acres or so) where we would have a veggie garden to grow fresh tomatoes and herbs. Our mum is also really into horse riding, so when we were super young we went to a merino stud that tamed brumbies down south. So we had exposure to farm life from that and I guess it never really left us.
LP: Our local high school offered agriculture as an elective in years 11 and 12, which is pretty unusual, but by studying ag in high school, it highlighted how huge agriculture is and what it has to offer both in regards to science and innovation as well as the challenges and impact is could
have. After loving the complexity of the science behind agriculture, we then went to University to become agricultural scientists.
ZP: Then things snowballed from there with placements in developing countries to gain experience in agricultural development.
TD: Reflecting on your progress so far, what have the highs and lows looked like? What’s been the toughest obstacle to overcome? What’s the proudest moment of Aggie Global thus far?
LP: It’s funny when I immediately think of the lows first, because starting Aggie Global has been filled with challenges but we have had a lot of wins.
Something that continues to come up, and will continue to come up, is hiring new staff and setting expectations from the start. We had designers and software developers on the team in2019, but because we had hired them remotely and we were trying to be flexible, it was difficult keeping them accountable and across our vision and how quickly things changed in the startup environment based on customers.
ZP: As context we were trying to build an educational app that would ultimately use AI to help farmers plan their farm. So we had sourced two tecchies in the US, with the aim to have one on UX-design (so customer experience and making things easy to use which is crucial for people
who don’t use technology everyday!); and one for the hardcore coding and build of the product. We got along with them really well and they joined based on the vision and wanting to apply their interest in AI to something tangible and impactful, which was great. But then during
development we were interviewing farmers and conducting experiments. And at the end of it, what was being built was solving a problem and helping the farmers so we had to pivot. And in pivoting we no longer needed the AI solution, so had to let the two techies go, which was really
LP: Some other challenges have been knowing where to spend money and how. We had looked at getting a marketing person on board to help with socials and messaging. But because expectations and us being too early on our journey, with many pivots to come, this didn’t work out. But we’ve also done some amazing things that we are proud of. We held a workshop, where only one person showed up (whooo! haha), but that one farmer went on to implement everything we had taught him and he had retained the scientific knowledge behind those practices, to fully understand what the benefits were and why they were happening. That farmer is now earning more than 5x the national average income for farmers in Fiji, having received $1000FJD in one week compared to $200. The impact of this is massive and something we continue to strive to replicate. We’ve also worked with the Hilton to bring them organic, edible flowers every week until Covid-19 hit.
ZP: Being finalists for awards has been incredibly validating for us, to just highlight that what we are doing is impactful and positive and has so much potential, even when we're struggling and hit our challenges. One of the awards was actually for the Commonwealth, where we were finalists for positive social impact within Fiji, which was insane considering the Commonwealth spans so many countries! Also being a part of BlueChilli’s Shestarts program last year was really validating and rewarding. We met so many inspiring and like-minded people which is amazing. They also gave us seed money which is massive validation and encouragement to continue the work we are doing. Other smaller things are stuff like this. We went on our local talk show which was really really cool, and there the pinch yourself moments of “I just met with the United Nations” or the head of the Agriculture Department within the government. Aggie Global has given us a tonne of incredible opportunities that is crazy to think about. LP: There have been so many awesome opportunities coming our way as Aggie Global grows but our favorite ones are definitely the benefits we see for the farmers and the community.
TD: There’s the cliché stereotype that twins are of one mind and much closer than normal siblings. How has creating a business changed the relationship between yourself and your sister? Surely there’s been times where you’ve been very separate minds with things relating to Aggie Global?
LP: Well, fortunately or not, we are those stereotypical twins. We do think really similarly and are passionate about the same things. We rarely argue but when we do, it's generally because, more often than not, we are ‘fighting’ for the same point just explaining it in slightly different ways. So I wouldn’t say there’s been any huge differences in opinions regarding what we need to do for Aggie Global.
ZP: Yeah, we’ve always had a buddy system of sorts growing up, so working together was kinda our norm. So our relationship hasn’t changed since starting Aggie Global.
TD: You’ve recently expanded Aggie Global with a new Australian platform (joining the existing Fijian one). What’s next for Aggie Global and how can others get involved or help your cause?
LP: Oooo, what's next is super exciting. Nothing is yet guaranteed as we are weighing up a few options. But we are working on a few collaboration ideas, things such as Gelato inspired by native Aussie Bushfoods or increasing our community of Aussie farmers to be more diverse amongst our farmers by including more indigenous Australians. We are also looking into how we can add value for our farmers by helping them measure the sustainability of their farm, whilst in Fiji we are looking into education options such as holding workshops or even a demonstration farm, depending on how things go. We continuously have ideas for what we can do with Aggie Global, so the best thing to do is to stay in touch with us through social media or our mailing list. There will be ways you can get involved in the future, even if that's chipping in on a crowdfunding campaign or buying through our website.
TD: Would you prefer that Aggie Global became a huge international supply platform, or that the existing system of major grocers fixed their methods, thus rendering the founding cause of Aggie Global unneeded?
LP: The idea of Aggie Global becoming a huge international supply platform scares me a little.
ZP: Yeah it's kinda daunting to think of that. But maybe that’s just because we are considering all the work involved in getting there…
LP: Yep, so I guess we kinda lean away from that idea…Mostly because if we got that big, we would be at risk of losing the focus of our social business. So as much as an investor would hate to hear this, I would much prefer we become redundant to the point where our current solution becomes mainstream and the general public are supporting their local community every day, in as many ways as they can.
ZP: But by having a mission to create a virtuous food supply chain and alleviate poverty, I feel that there will always be a need for Aggie Global, and similar organisations.
TD: Is there a measurable mark that would make you consider Aggie Global a complete
LP: Ohh that’s hard.. Most of our impact is fairly intangible, around improving livelihoods and the impact of this on other community members.
ZP: I would say our main measure is the amount of money we generate for our farmers and their community. On a larger scale, this will look at the percentage of farmers we have lifted out of poverty, or the number of farmers living in poverty around the world. A tangible change would be flipping Fiji’s food imports from 70% down to 30% or lower, so the majority of produce is being sourced from local farmers.
LP: Then again even if we can help contribute to an increased awareness of agriculture and the challenges farmers face, then there will be great benefit from our work and that’s something we strive towards.
TD: What can we expect to see from Lisa Paisley over the next 5 years?
LP: Hmmmm, good question. I don’t like quantifying things that far into the future because things are constantly changing. BUT we do hope to grow Aggie Global to 2 other developing countries in the next 5 years. At that point, ideally Zoe and I would be speaking at events and raising awareness of how social businesses can scale and have a huge positive impact in the communities we work.
TD: What advice would you give to those who are looking to make a difference in an area of their own passions?
LP: Do your research, connect with people in the space you want to work in and jump into it. But really the best thing you can do is give it a really good go and get out the door to make things happen. Building a supportive network goes a long way, but getting out of your comfort zone makes all the difference.
ZP: When we started Aggie Global, we had typical uni student savings, ideals and not a lot of confidence to run a business. But after jumping in the deep end and learning more about the Fiji way of life, things slowly but surely started falling into place.
TD: Any final thoughts to leave us with?
LP: I don’t think, mainly because we shouldn’t keep rambling. But if anyone wants to learn more, just reach out to us using the links below.
Enjoying the interviews? Want to read more?
Keep the interview series alive by making a small contribution.