Providing Nutritious Food While Empowering Female Farmers in Zimbabwe

Dec 7, 2022 8:40 AM ET

By Nobukhosi Ndlovu, Founder and Managing Director, Nutrie Foods

I come from a family of entrepreneurs — my parents were farmers who owned a grocery store and a trucking company. That’s no small feat in a country like Zimbabwe, where 4.1 million people deal with food insecurity and 49 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty.

Like many rural women farmers in Zimbabwe, my mother grew peanuts but didn’t have a market for them. Growing peanuts was challenging work, as they would eventually become contaminated with mold due to a lack of proper storage facilities.

Inspired by my childhood experiences and the desire to positively impact the world, I set out to build a business that would add value to myself and others. That’s how Nutrie Foods was born.

Nutrie Foods: Nutritious Products That Promote Economic Empowerment

I started Nutrie Foods as a company that offers healthy food while giving back to the community by providing a fair-trade market for female farmers’ produce.

Nutrie Foods manufactures peanut butter, mixed fruit jam, salted corn, roasted corn, chili corn, and marmalade. It also packages honey, sugar beans, soy chunks, and rice imported from Kilombero, Malawi.

Producing high-quality food is as important to me as promoting female economic empowerment. Not only because it is central to realizing women’s rights and gender equality, but because women’s dignified labor is good for any economy, especially one like Zimbabwe’s.

Women’s economic empowerment boosts productivity and increases economic diversification and income equality, according to the United Nations.

To support female farmers, we:

  • Buy produce from rural women farmers who rely on farming as their primary source of income.
  • Train rural women farmers to use proper farming techniques and agricultural practices.
  • Provide seeds and fertilizer to women farmers to improve production.
  • Provide a steady and predictable market for farmers’ produce at a fair price.
  • Contribute to steady employment and job creation.

Nutrie Foods started with only eight employees; today, we employ 48 people in Zimbabwe and create employment in other African countries through produce importation.

But our path hasn’t been an easy one.

Access to Financing: A Challenge for African Entrepreneurs

As a young entrepreneur, one of the major challenges when starting Nutrie Foods was access to funding.

Thanks to local micro-finance institutions, I received startup funding, and Nutrie Foods started its operations in 2013 in a small, rented warehouse. In the beginning, I played every role in the business, but I knew my hard work would eventually pay off.

Like many startups in Africa, I had to compete with larger brands, but as I persisted, major retailers started to sell my products in their stores. It brings me great pleasure to see the hard work of female farmers back home now on the shelves of major African retail stores and wholesalers. Knowing that the ingredients of my products come from farmers like my mother inspires me to keep growing.

Once our products were officially sold in big corporate stores, we were ready to dive into obtaining the certifications required to export Nutrie Foods products.

But then the pandemic hit.

Being Resilient and Planning for the Future

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a lot of challenges to our business. Although most companies were shutting down, we managed to stay open by qualifying as an essential service. Even so, our working hours were restricted due to the lockdown, and we had to cut down on production.

Partnering with Herbalife Nutrition through its Nutrition for Zero Hunger (NFZH) initiative, the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) supports African social entrepreneurs through the Food and Nutrition Stars (African FANS) Program. With financial assistance from NFZH, I was awarded a grant from USADF along with four other African social entrepreneurs. The FANS grant enabled Nutrie Foods to buy a van to transport employees to work safely. It helped us limit exposure to COVID-19 for our employees, cut our transport costs, and increase our productivity. The safety and happiness of our employees are paramount, and motivated employees produce better results.

But not all changes brought about by COVID-19 have been bad. The pandemic had an impact on consumer behavior. Many people have tried to eat healthier, and this increased health consciousness drove up honey sales. People are also buying Nutrie peanut butter to use as a cooking alternative to oil. The trend towards healthy eating is so pronounced that Nutrie Foods is looking into more nutritious grains, such as finger millet, to expand our product offering.

Our exportation plans were on hold for a while, but we are ready to restart that process. We have a growing list of potential markets for our natural products, but we plan to first look towards our neighbors in the African region. Our goal is to provide healthy foods to neighboring African countries and contribute towards alleviating food insecurity in the region.

I am excited about the future and constantly turn towards this mantra to remind myself that the sky is the limit if I keep working hard: “Limitation is only a belief, but if practiced daily, it can become a reality.”

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