Nqobile Bhebhe, Senior Business Reporter
A BULAWAYO women-run business venture has grabbed the opportunity offered by the growing global demand for organic foods to spread its market footprint locally and abroad while also empowering small-scale farmers.
Das Foods Enterprise, a subsidiary of Multibrand, is an all-female business outfit established in 2013 and specialises in organic produce.
There is a growing demand for organic foods among consumers as more people are becoming health conscious and seek products that are high in nutrients and low in calories.
Consumers are becoming more aware of foods containing synthetic pesticides and fertilisers and are switching to organic foods, which are driving market growth of organic farming that is devoid of chemicals. This has seen organic fruit and vegetable growers making inroads in the global supply chain.
Das Foods Enterprise production manager, Mrs Busi Chitewe, said rising demand for organic food has boosted their business and helped them grow employment numbers, especially for women.
“This is a deliberate move to empower the girl child. We have farmers who grow crops for us. We pride ourselves with high quality raw production of the ingredients we use from our small holder female farmers whom we have trained in good and environmentally friendly agricultural practices,” she said.
“So, when we talk of organic products, we don’t refer to the final product but it starts from the ingredients.”
The contracted small holder farmers are from Bulawayo and surrounding areas.
“We have created employment through that and our focus as we employ at Das Foods is on empowering other women,” said Mrs Chitewe.
“We are empowering the girl child in terms of merchandising and marketing. We are a team of women only.”
Although established in 2013, Mrs Chitewe said they started fulltime operations in 2018 and now the business is supplying retail outlets, lodges and a few hotels.
“There is a major shift towards organic products locally and internationally. The local market is doing well and is growing. We started off supplying one outlet but now we are in six outlets in Bulawayo,” she said.
“We have noticed that more people are now into healthy eating and this has increased demand of our products. We have the capacity of producing 500 units of a product line per day.
“Although we are still experiencing a number of challenges that include access to working capital, we also need additional machinery. With additional machinery, we can upscale our production capacity.”
Noting how access to capital and working space is also a limitation for small to medium enterprises, Mrs Chitewe said they were looking forward to having a large facility.
“The main issue around SMES is that of collateral and women owned businesses are struggling to access capital,” she said.
“Not all women have properties that they can tender in as collateral and we have always thought of why are we not considered in terms of the viability of the business. The project on its own can be collateral.”
For any business venture to stay abreast with changing business landscape, training is vital and Das Foods is tapping into expertise from ZimTrade, the country’s export promotion body, which has assisted a lot in that regard.
“ZimTrade is providing us with technical capacity for the export side. We have had the opportunity of participating at the SMEs International Expo that is held yearly at the Harare International Conference Centre (HICC),” she said.
“It was through the expo that we met with a representative of the Zimbabwe Italy Friendship Association (Zimita) that resulted in us participating at a trade show in Italy in May this year.
“Under ZimTrade we also participated at the Zambia Agricultural Show and managed to attract business opportunities especially distributors. We are now working on fulfilling the requirement for exporting.”
Another major advantage of being under the banner of ZimTrade, which is mandated to drive exports for the country is that they do research on the export markets for us, said Mrs Chitewe.
“Research for the export market is an expensive undertaking and as SMEs we cannot afford on our own, but working with ZimTrade gives us the opportunity to know exactly where our products are required.
“Therefore, we highly value the association with ZimTrade. We have also been trained on marketing, branding for international exports. We are realising that working with, we have acquired valuable experience in upscaling our business and we are being uplifted.”
Mrs Chitewe said with access to funding, machinery and working space, there is much room for young businesses to expand production and reap more from exporting.