#HowWeSpent2020: Zimbabwean start-up teaches women how to farm in pandemic

Chashi Foods

While this year has been challenging for most, we’re spotlighting non-profits and social enterprises that have worked hard to continue making an impact despite the added challenges that 2020 brought. If a story connects with you, please support the organization and founders in this series. Be part of our community of outstanding women by joining She Leads Africa today.

ABOUT CHASHI FOODS (ZIMBABWE)

Most people know that global hunger is a pressing issue — but what you may not know is that food waste is equally concerning.

Food wasted every year in the continent could feed up to 300 million people, according to the United Nations. In just Uganda alone, up to 40% of fruit and vegetables end up being discarded. Post-harvest losses have a negative impact on the environment as food decay releases methane, which is 28 times more harmful than carbon dioxide, and is associated with global climate change. 

However, where many would see a problem, Chashi Foods saw an opportunity. 

“Much of what’s sold in markets is wasted because farmers cannot store the food. So they have to return home and pick fresh fruit and vegetables to sell the next day. During the dry season very little grows so people go hungry. Moreso due to strict government-mandated measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus we could potentially spark food shortages around the country.” – Forget (Product Development Director)

Chashi Foods is committed to providing sustainable solutions in reducing food loss. By the use of smart technologies and agro-processing, Chashi Foods has been able to increase the shelf life of farm produce. But their mandate goes further, coining them the three P’s, Chashi Foods concentrates on people, planet, and profit.

By helping farmers prolong their product shelf life they have managed to increase their income per capita. More nutritious food will be available to rural and urban dwellers, especially children as they can eat the dried produce. Their main target is to hire mainly women to manage the operations and collection of revenue at Chashi stations. All the while stopping food waste will be beneficial to the planet.

 

DEALING WITH THE MARKET MAFIAS & COVID-19

Just before the COVID-19 lockdown started in Harare, Forget had been in a plight to eliminate intermediaries or market mafias from the supply. The market mafias have garnered a reputation to buy produce from the farmers at a very low price and then exorbitantly sell them to the consumers. 

However, as the lockdown was imposed their focus had to shift. Suddenly, they had no product to buy as the rural farmers found it hard to commute to the city center. But their call to action was even stronger as farmers’ harvested produce went to waste since large markets were closed. Eventually, Chashi too had to close their production and their impact seemingly came to a halt.

Beyond buying from rural farmers, Chashi continued to support farmers by providing mentorship and training in post-harvest management and agribusiness. During the Covid19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdown period, they trained over 100 farmers in post-harvest management and helped reduce over 5 tons of produce from being lost. 

Forget shared a beautiful success story of a female farmer in Guruve, a small village center in the North of Zimbabwe. “After receiving our training manual, this lady was able to dry about 300kgs of tomato harvest which she sold to the local hotel. I haven’t met her personally but she’s come to refer to me as family. That’s what we are aiming to do at Chashi – improving people’s livelihoods.”

As it became apparent that the pandemic would drag on for long, Shareka looked for new avenues of selling their products. As you might guess, the top of the agenda had been gravitating to selling items online and getting them delivered to doorsteps.

While this sounds easy in theory, it brought all sorts of challenges. Professional storefront to be built, photography to be taken, secure payment methods, delivery drivers and transport, and getting the message out there that they’re virtually open for business is not an easy job.

So Chashi came up with an easier plan, they leveraged already existing platforms like Facebook and Whatsapp.

 “The pandemic has only enhanced the need for more supply chain resiliency, and for us to make the most of the food that is being produced, disseminated, and purchased not only in Africa but throughout the world.” – Forget Shareka

ADJUSTING TO MAKE IMPACT IN A GLOBAL PANDEMIC

“We created a WhatsApp group in which we were facilitating the selling of farmers’ produce. We identified a common hotspot of activity and traffic in the city, and then created a meeting point for farmers to sell their products and push volumes. We did this free of charge and it was fulfilling seeing the weight we lifted off their shoulders.” 

The nearly instantaneous economic recession triggered by the COVID-19 shutdown has wreaked havoc on businesses large and small. For Chashi what has kept them going is reploughing all their sales proceeds into the business towards operational expenses which include salaries and maintenance of their machinery. 

Forget testifies that the pandemic has taught her and the organization an important lesson in resilience. The pandemic now presents additional challenges for managing mental health and other economic challenges.

Loss and suffering may change a person, but much will influence its trajectory, including biological, environmental, behavioral, and psychological components. “Any life stressor, to some degree, is out of our control. How long will the pandemic last? When can we go back to school? To work? All valid questions, but they are also unknowns and uncertainties; we don’t want to get stuck ruminating about them,” says Forget.

Lastly, Shareka made a warm invitation. Women constitute nearly 50% of the agricultural workforce and own one-third of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Africa, they are a key pillar of Africa’s food systems. As the challenges related to COVID-19 come into force in various countries, women’s livelihoods and business activities are threatened, ChThasi food is inviting all women in farming, leadership, and business to join them in their journey. 

“We have the expertise to change the trajectory of female farmers, we’re inviting investors and business developers to help us increase our reach.” Forget says as her last words

If you would like to support Chashi Foods, visit chashifoods.com

About She Leads Africa

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