Name: Tsepo Manganda
Company Name: Pured Agro-Processors Pvt Ltd.
Sector: Agricultural processing Country: Zimbabwe
In September 2020, a group of 5 Advanced Level students at Mzingwane High School identified a common challenge that affects smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe. Being learners at an agro-based institution where some of the fresh produce that is supplied to the school’s kitchen comes straight from the school’s garden, we realized that not all of that produce is utilized and some of it goes to waste after it is supplied in excess and goes bad, mostly tomatoes. Further research carried out with the surrounding community revealed to us that farmers lose up to 40% of their fresh tomato produce that they could have converted into cash. The main obstacle to farmers is the failure to fetch competitive market prices because the market is flooded. This leads to low earnings. Realizing that a single problem led to a chain of challenges for farmers and referring to our business studies knowledge we came up with tomato processing as a solution to post-harvest losses encountered by tomato farmers in Mzingwane. This meant that farmers would be guaranteed a market and further create value for their produce which would result in increased earnings for local farmers. After carefully researching the market through surveys in our local community we discovered that there was a lot of interest in tomato by-products such as sauce and paste. This boosted our belief in our idea which was pitched successfully in October 2021 during the National Business Case Competition and secured seed capital of funding of US$5000 through Emergination Africa’s Virtual Innovation Accelerator.
Challenges & Opportunities
In November 2021, we finally registered our company as Pured Agro-Processors Pvt Ltd. This was now the time to realize what had just been a dream for the whole year. Our first challenge was that 3 of my fellow team members were no longer staying in the same city and it became difficult to coordinate and operate physically. We were however not deterred and decided to use a hybrid approach. After drafting our road map, the first product we were going to launch was dried tomato powder. Another snag to the dream occurred as we could not rely on sun drying but needed a commercial dehydrating machine. We could not stop our dreams as a result of this set so we continued to depend on sun drying as we kept searching for a proper and efficient dehydrator. we couldn’t find proper dehydrating machines locally. We soon realized that we couldn’t rely on sun drying as it was already the rainy season and we could go for days on end without any sun but soaked in rain. This further delayed the launch of our product until early February 2022 when we finally began importing the dehydrator machine which took 5 months to arrive. We also learnt that there isn’t a set standard for our tomato powder with the Standards Association of Zimbabwe hence we had to opt for nutritional runs to prove the safety of our product. Despite receiving positive feedback and getting large orders for the tomato powder, we could not meet demand, and as we were still using the sun drying method which was quite laborious for the two members that were on the ground. In May 2022, while waiting for the dehydrator machine, we decided to expand our product line to tomato sauce manufacturing. Again this was a bold step that was accompanied by its challenges as we failed several times until we launched it in August 2022. Our sauce is made from double-concentrated tomato paste and it’s flavoured with natural herbs and spices.
In September 2022 we finally received the dehydrator machine and resumed production of the tomato powder. To date, we have sold more than 450 sachets of tomato powder and 150 tomato sauce bottles. With our business still operating at our school we hired two part-time workers intending to increase our production capacity as the demand for our tomato powder was growing fast. Applying all the knowledge and skills we gained during the Virtual Innovation Accelerator program our breakthrough came in October 2022 as we achieved one of our goals of increasing our tomato powder output and further reached more than 50 new customers in the same month. Again in the same month, we got to participate in the Zimbabwe Progressive Youth Foundation’s exhibition program in which we gained new knowledge and clients as we were exposed to new people. Our production continued steadily until January 2023 and being able to sell all that we produce gave us joy at the same worry due to our inability to meet the rising demand. Our key focus is to increase production through the purchase of new and even bigger machinery.
From February 2023 until we decided to move part of the production chain to Bulawayo as this would ensure close monitoring and daily access to our drying equipment in an attempt to keep supply constant and cut traveling costs. A key collaboration with the National University of Science and Technology Innovation Centre also increased our prospects for growth and success and enabled us to grow our customer base in Bulawayo and penetrate markets in other cities such as Harare and Masvingo. We’ve also been able to exhibit at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair where we gained new clients and were able to increase awareness of our brand. Today we boast of healthy additive-free tomato products in which most of our customers have given positive feedback.
Key Lessons Learnt
1. First and most importantly, having a committed team behind an idea is more valuable than the value of the idea itself. No matter how big or valuable the idea is, it will be successfully realized when there is someone enthusiastic, disciplined, and dedicated to it. When 3 of my teammates were not available on the ground it took commitment for the two members to implement our idea
2. Always setting goals and targets helps an entrepreneur to stay motivated and committed. Some of the targets that we had set were the ones that influenced us to make bold decisions that took our business to a new level.
3. It is very important to value the feedback that your customer gives about a product or service as it helps us to improve the product. Through feedback from our clients, we’ve been able to create a range of flavors for our tomato powder and it has taken the business to new heights.
4. Never give up. Keep pushing. Entrepreneurship is not an overnight success story but one driven by hard work and at times, many falls before rising.
We have made it a priority to increase our brand awareness across the country as we seek to claim a bigger share of the tomato by-products in Zimbabwe in the future. We are also open to partnerships with bigger players in the food processing industry as a way of scaling up our business to set up a bigger commercial plant in the future. Furthermore, we also aim to promote our current products to be distributed by large retailers, innovate healthy tomato-based products, and continue being an agro-value chain game changer.