Tell us about yourself – your background, where you’re from and how you came to be who you are today in relation to promoting Zimbabwean natural products.
I studied Biology and Biochemistry at the National University of Sceince and Technology (NUST) and went on to do a Masters in Biotechnology at the University of Zimbabwe. After my Masters I joined Southern African Alliance For Indigenous Resources (SAFIRE) as product development officer. It was at SAFIRE that I developed a love and knowledge for natural products. I spent quite a lot of time working with community groups learning about plant species around Zimbabwe, their traditional uses and properties. My job was to figure out what products to make from plants found in Zimbabwe, to market them for the benefit of the communities. With my scientific background I was instrumental in the formulation and developing various products that were introduced into the Zimbabwean market for the first time.
A few years later I joined PhytoTrade Africa where I continued to do the same but on a much larger scale. I worked in 8 southern African countries and also interacted with researchers from around the world. My knowledge of natural products increased. In 2008 I got an opportunity to venture into business with a growing company: Speciality Foods of Africa that was trading in natural products. Since then I have not looked back. Natural products have become a part of my everyday life.
What inspires you about your work?
The community groups that I work with inspire me a lot. Many are very poor with little or no sources of income. When we go to buy raw materials from them, they show a lot of excitement and are so grateful to receive money in some cases as little as $30. This challenges me to want to do more for them as I can see how that little amount means so much and goes a long way. I am therefore constantly thinking of new products I can buy from them to continue bringing smiles to their faces.
What challenges do you face and how can they be overcome?
The retailers present the biggest challenge to our business. While we pay the community members cash upfront for the raw materials they supply, once we process these into products and supply to retailers, they will take 60 to 90 days before they pay us and are not consistent in their payment. You have a 120 day window between the time that you pay for raw material and receive payment for the product where you experience serious cashfow for continued restocking of raw material
Tell us about the award which you received.
I was given the award for Business Woman of the Year in the SME category which signifies the business with the most potential for growth. Businesses are nominated for the awards by members of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce. The nominees are accessed on various criteria which includes:
- Your performance as a woman entrepreneur
- Contributions towards empowering other women
- Innovative ideas of business
- How the business is significant for Zimbabwe
- Growth of the business since it was started
- Visibility of your brand and products
Where do you see yourself and your business in the future?
We hope to grow our brands into household brands where we have a product for every Zimbabwean from any walk of life.
What would you say to others wanting to get into Natural Product promotion?
There is a lot of untapped potential in natural products. The opportunity for an entrepreneur to make money, the opportunity to feed the nation and provide incomes to those along the value chain and therefore job creation, and lastly the opportunity to conserve and manage the natural products. My advice to new entrants would be to be well informed about their products and the regulations around their activities to ensure that you are doing the right thing as they make money