In Zimbabwe, more and more enterprises are responding to consumers’ growing interest in wholesome food and products that celebrate the essence of Africa’s unique natural resources and ingredients. One such enterprise is Utsanzi, a traditional food and products company and a pioneer in the commercialisation of indigenous foods and herbs. Utsanzi was the first local company to place small grains in supermarkets. More than 20 years ago, the Utsanzi founder, Austin Munyavhi created a powerful corporate brand and established an enterprise that harnesses Zimbabwe’s natural and indigenous foods, herbs and ingredients to contribute to addressing current nutrition and health problems.

The story of Utsanzi is a one-man journey to create a Zimbabwean traditional foods brand that has a uniquely African story and essence. Austin started off as a chemical detergent supplier who transitioned to marketing 100% natural and indigenous personal care products after struggling with stomach ulcers for years and finally getting effective treatment using an African herb that he calls Kashu.

The first herb that Austin commercialised was Ruredzo/Feso (devil thorn), a climbing plant that can be used for food, medicinal and cosmetic purposes. Gradually he began to other herbs alongside small grains to his product portfolio. Although the journey was long and challenging, Austin was dedicated to his vision of building a brand that tells the African story and now it markets a wide range of indigenous foods and products including grains, oils, butters, teas, dried leafy vegetables, insects, fruits, medicinal herbs and clay cooking pots.  Austin believes that food is more than just something to eat but a rallying point for identity and culture in various communities and that we should all claim good health and well being through our cultural heritage.

Enterprises like Utsanzi not only contribute to the protection of public health, but also contribute to the household income of small-scale producers and provide environmental and social benefits. Utsanzi’s main product suppliers are small scale producers from around the country, who generally struggle to find established markets.  Utsanzi offers processing training and ongoing support to its suppliers to ensure continual improvement and to control product quality. Austin Munyavhi’s hard work paid off through Utsanzi’s recent Global Food Industry Award for its industrialisation of Zviyo and Nyemba porridge (Cereal and Legume mix).

Although Utsanzi’s marketing approaches for indigenous herbs have been based on knowledge of past practices and beliefs that regular consumption of herbs helps to maintain good health and prevent illnesses, the major clientele for the Utsanzi herbs are mainly ill people suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. The same is true but to a lesser extend for the indigenous foods. A market for traditional products and herbs has been steadily growing over the years but Mr Munyavhi thinks a lot more needs to be done to grow the traditional products market in Zimbabwe.  Utsanzi utilises various marketing methods including; word of mouth, exhibitions at food fairs and in-store marketing.

Today Utsanzi is one of Zimbabwe’s leaders in traditional products and medicinal herbs and operates a grocery store that captures the essence of our local resources and ingredients located at Long Cheng Shopping Mall in Belvedere, Harare. The enterprise has contributed immensely to the promotion and availability of traditional products, which were rare to find and not consistent on the supermarket shelf. Utsanzi products are also found in a considerable number of supermarkets nationwide.

Mr Munyavhi says, “Chivanhu chedu (meaning our cultural heritage) is our philosophy”, he also strongly believes that the solution to our food security and health problems lies in our hands and in our cultural heritage. His vision is to build a regionally respected brand of Zimbabwean origin and share the richness of traditional products with Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa.

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Teresa Mungazi
Teresa Mungazi has worked as Business and Biodiversity Officer at Environment Africa for more than two years. She holds an Honours Degree in Applied Environmental Science from the University of Zimbabwe. She is a member of the Zimbabwe Organic Food Forum Coordination Team and aspires to run a social enterprise that promotes sustainability and healthy living.

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