September 26, 2022

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Local delight: African, gluten-free snacks offer farmers a market and an entrepreneur a local future

Armed with ambition, an agriculture degree from South Africa and a vision, a young Zimbabwean is manufacturing healthfoods that promise to empower local farmers and create jobs.
 
 By Irene Kalulu, bird story agency
 
In 2016, Tracy Vongai Mapfumo took up a job with Bio-Innovation Zimbabwe, because her backyard startup, a health foods manufacturer, wasn’t paying her rent.

The entrepreneur, now 29, had an education in agriculture, holding a BSc (Honours) in Crop Science from the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) in South Africa. She had gone to UKZN after having excelled in her A-level studies and been awarded a Presidential scholarship.

However, after graduating in 2014, she initially struggled to secure employment. So she volunteered at a research organisation studying underutilised plants and that was when she realised that local plants could be of value as ingredients for competitive, African, healthfoods. They could also offer her a means to contribute to Zimbabwe’s economy and to stay “home” rather than following so many other graduates in looking for work outside the country.

So, from her small backyard in Glendale, 59km from Harare, Mapfumo began working to revolutionisee healthy eating.

“I started experimenting with making snacks using local seeds and plants and giving them to my workmates and family. One of my workmates reacted to a snack bar I made that had peanuts. She got violently sick, and from there, I vowed to make tasty, healthy snacks for people like her,” Mapfumo said.

After attending a few food fairs to see what kind of gluten and peanut-free snacks were on the market, Mapfumo identified gaps in this space that she could utilise. This led to the birth of Mapfumo’s health foods startup, Eny’s Treats.

“I was determined to make snacks that people with peanut allergies could enjoy without reacting to. I made a seed bar without using the usual peanut. I used sesame seeds and Moringa seeds. No one reacted to these, including the girl with peanut allergies, which pushed me to explore more flavours,” Mapfumo explained.

She started off making a seed bar with different layers. Some had chocolate, sesame seed, baobab,
cranberries, pumpkin seed, and sometimes moringa or blueberry. What she had in mind was healthy, tasty an d gluten-and-peanut-free snack bar catering to those with allergies.

In 2019, Mapfumo won an award for a start-up business category in the Young Entrepreneurs program offered by CBZ, a Zimbabwe bank specializing in promoting youth in business. As a result, she was able to scale up her business, moving from home to a more formal business area in Harare, and stocking the business with a fridge, ovens, and other business assets.

Today, Eny’s Treats uses natural sweeteners like honey, dried fruits, and berries to create wholesome and nutritious snacks.

Buying seeds from local farmers in an attempt to create more jobs and a bigger market for small-scale seed producers, Mapfumo quickly realised that many small-scale farmers were moving out of farming maize and trying alternative crops suitable for dry weather. That included sesame and baobab seeds which thrive in dry climates. The company now sources sesame seeds from local farmers in the low-lying and dry areas of Muzarabani and Chimanimani.

Eny’s Treats has grown steadily to become an award-winning business that supplies upscale Zimbabwean supermarkets with gluten-free snacks and the company now does seed bars, seed balls, and seed butter. All the ingredients are locally sourced from small-scale farmers or producers in dry regions of Zimbabwe.

Furthermore, she offers consultancy services on value addition for indigenous foods to rural women.
 
“We have partnered with the Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund, where we trained 30 women and youth in
Mberengwa rural area. We trained them on marula nut value addition under the ECRIMS Mukai initiative. Inside the marula fruit is a kernel, or nut, which we then use to make flavoured marula nut snacks. This is an alternative way for rural women to make money, using the resources available to them,” Mapfumo explained.

Kisepile Muleya, the district coordinator for the Mukai project, explained that the project was meant to improve household incomes, preserve environments and add value to natural product harvests. 

“We conducted a non-timber forests products training of farmers whereby farmers identified non-timber products from where they can get food supplements and sell for cash. We capacitate them so that they can be financially and nutritionally stable. Tracy comes in handy with the technical know-how of the value addition of natural non-timber products. Through her involvement, we managed to train our farmers on the value addition of marula nuts, testing of the products for nutritional content, and registration of the group as a private limited company,” Muleya said.

In 2021, Eny’s Treats also participated in the Eagle Nest’s programme by ZIMTRADE where they were taught
about the export market and how they can use it. 
 
Currently, most of their work is done by hand, as they don’t have a mechanised production line, but Mapfumo is planning to change that, bringing in machines to increase production and also improve safety and hygiene standards. She also wants to change the plastic packaging used now, to biodegradable cardboard. 
 
Mapfumo said the company was focused on scaling up to supply more retail shops in Zimbabwe and to move their products beyond Zimbabwe’s borders, as the region promotes more intra-African trade. 
 
“We work with many stockists, but we mainly sell to upmarket speciality shops and pharmacies which target diet
and fitness enthusiasts. We are also targeting gyms,” explained Mapfumo.

The business is growing. Eny’s Treats now comprises a team of five, including a director, an accountant – who also takes care of marketing, an administrator, and two production staff members.

Accountant Nyasha Samukange has worked for Eny’s Treats for five years and has seen the company grow and evolve from just having two products, to over ten.

“This has seen our business move from having a few selling points to having multiple numbers of stockists spread
across the country. With our progress so far, the future looks bright,” Samukane said.
 
Eny’s Treats is also getting raving reviews from their stockists.

“Eny’s seed bars are very popular with our customers. People with diabetes come and buy; they find the snacks
very helpful. Moms also buy lunch boxes for their children. They are healthy and tasty snacks that kids love. It’s an easier way to get nutrients for your children, which is always difficult. We love Eny’s and so do our customers,”
said Dana Lister, owner of Thrive, an upmarket store in a wealthier suburb of Harare.

Mapfumo still hasn’t given up her day job. But her side hustle is now a vibrant small business, and the young entrepreneur has a clear view of its future.

“When I started the business, I was 26, and no one took me seriously. By being consistent, they realised that I was actually good at what I do. So I say know your vision, know where you want to go, and stick to it,” Mapfumo said happily.

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