Armed with only ambition, an agriculture degree from South Africa and a vision, a young woman from Zimbabwe is making healthy snacks that promise to revitalize local farmers, create new jobs and improve the health of all Africans. .
In 2016, Tracy Vongai Mapfumo took a job at Bio-Innovation Zimbabwe, because his healthy food start-up wasn’t earning enough to pay the bills.
The businesswoman, now 29, has a background in agriculture and a bachelor’s degree in Crop Science from the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) in South Africa. She had gone to UKZN after she had excelled in her A-level studies and received a Presidential Scholarship.
However, after graduating in 2014, she initially struggled to secure a job. So she decided to apply for a job at a research organization studying underutilized plants, and that’s when she realized that local plants could be valuable as ingredients for competitive, African, healthy foods.
They could also offer a means to contribute to Zimbabwe’s economy and allow you to stay “at home” rather than following so many other graduates looking for work outside the country. So, in his small backyard in Glendale, 59 km from Harare, Mapfumo set to work to revolutionize healthy eating.
“One of my colleagues reacted badly to a peanut snack, and from there, I promised to make tasty and healthy snacks for people like her.”
“I started experimenting with making snacks with local seeds and plants and giving it to my co-workers and family members,” said Mapfumo.
After attending a few food fairs to see what kind of gluten-free and peanut-free “snacks” were on the market, Mapfumo identified gaps in this space that she could utilize. This led to the birth of Mapfumo’s healthy food startup, Eny’s Treats.
“I was determined to make ‘snacks’ that people with allergies could enjoy without any problems.”
“I made a seed bar without using the usual peanut. I used sesame seeds and moringa seeds.”
“No one had any allergic reactions, including the girl with a peanut allergy, which led me to explore more flavors,” explained Mapfumo.
She started by making a seed bar with different layers. She used chocolate, sesame seed, baobab, blackberries, pumpkin seed, and sometimes moringa or blueberries. What she had in mind was a healthy, tasty, gluten-free, peanut-free “snack” for people with allergies.
In 2019, Mapfumo won an award for a start-up category in the Young Entrepreneurs program offered by CBZ, a Zimbabwean bank specializing in promoting young people in business. As a result, she was able to expand her start-up, moving home to a more formal commercial area in Harare.
Today, Eny’s Treats uses natural sweeteners like honey, dried fruit and berries to create healthy and nutritious snacks, sourcing seeds from local farmers in an attempt to create more jobs and a bigger market for small seed producers.
Mapfumo quickly realized that many small farmers were moving away from growing maize and trying alternative crops suitable for drier climates. This included sesame and baobab seeds that thrive in this type of climate. The company now sources sesame seeds from local farmers in the low, dry areas of Muzarabani and Chimanimani.
Eny’s Treats has steadily grown to become an award-winning company that supplies gluten-free snacks to luxury supermarkets in Zimbabwe and now makes seed bars, seed balls and seed butter. All ingredients are sourced locally from smallholders or producers in dry regions of Zimbabwe.
In addition, the company provides value-adding consulting services for indigenous foods to rural women.
“We partnered with the Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund, where we trained 30 women and youth in rural Mberengwa.”
“We trained these women in the value addition of marula nut under the ECRIMS Mukai initiative.”
“Inside the marula fruit is a pit, or nut, that we use to make marula nut-flavored snacks.”
“This is an alternative way for rural women to earn money, using the resources available to them,” explained Mapfumo.
Kisepile Muleya, district coordinator of the Mukai project, explained that the project aimed to improve family income, preserve the environment and add value to natural product crops.
Born to change the status quo
The company “Eny’s Treats” was named in honor of his late mother, Eniya (Eny) Dengu-Mapfumo.
“I lost her just before I graduated [….] my mother nurtured my skills and taught me to work hard,” said Mapfumo.
Mapfumo was fortunate to be a part of FemBioBiz, a program that allows female entrepreneurs and executives of bioscience companies to expand their operations through an accelerator program that leverages local exposure and access to global markets. 2019, she participated in the Youth Connekt program and received the First Runner-Up award by Mashonaland Central.
As Mapfumo works with small farmers, essentially women, she has noticed a disturbing pattern. Usually when a piece of land starts to yield, a man takes over the business, claiming that the land is his. For this reason, Mapfumo emphasized the need to give more strength to women and the issues that touch the heart of land ownership.
To that end, she partnered with the Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund (ZRBF) to train rural women and youth on the added value of marula beans in Mberengwa district. This partnership gave rise to the first rural women’s agricultural cooperative in that district.
In 2021, Eny’s Treats participated in ZIMTRADE’s Eagle Nest program where it learned how to deal with the export market and how to monetize it.
Currently, most of the work is done manually as they do not have a mechanized production line, but Mapfumo plans to change that by introducing machines to increase production and also improve safety and hygiene standards. She also wants to change the plastic packaging used now to biodegradable paper.
Mapfumo said the company is focused on expanding to provide more retail stores in Zimbabwe and moving its products beyond Zimbabwe’s borders as the region promotes more intra-African trade.
“We work with a lot of stockists, but we mainly sell to luxury specialty stores and pharmacies geared toward dieters and fitness enthusiasts.”
“We are also selling to gyms,” explained Mapfumo.
The business has grown. Eny’s Treats is now staffed by five people, including a director, an accountant who also handles marketing, an administrator and two members of the production team.
Accountant Nyasha Samukange has been with Eny’s Treats for five years and has seen the company grow and evolve from just two products to over ten.
“This made our business go from a few points of sale to several numbers of stockists spread across the country”.
“With our progress so far, the future looks bright,” said Samukane
Mapfumo still hasn’t given up its work in producing the products. But her “little idea” is now a vibrant company and the young entrepreneur has a clear vision of her future.
“When I started the business, I was 26 years old and nobody took me seriously.”
“By being consistent, they realized I was really good at what I did.”
“So I say, know your vision, know where you want to go and fulfill it.”
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Picture: © 2022 Irene Kalulu