Mavis Nduchwa: Empowering Communities with Agriculture

A real estate and hospitality graduate turned TV presenter and now farmer, Mavis Nduchwa has done it all. Mavis’ journey to entrepreneurship goes as far back as when she was in boarding school, where she ordered and sold sweets to fellow students, and helped some students write their essays and letters for a small fee. So, it was no surprise that all through her career changes, Mavis always knew that she would someday be her own boss.

Mavis is passionate about the environment and nature. She is currently a manager at Safari Lodge, something she has been doing for the past ten years. In May 2011, she co-founded Chabana Farms with Brighton Chabana and was recently one of three selected winners of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) from Botswana. Mavis enjoys gardening and travelling and hopes to empower her community with agriculture.

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Tell us about Chabana Farms and what you do
At Chabana Farms, we are all about integrated farming — cattle, goats, donkeys, poultry, piggery, vegetables and horticulture. Farming is our pride. We believe that no child should go to bed hungry, so we make sure that starting from our small community, every person is fed. We also empower women and girls in our community through farming.

We started Chabana Farms in 2011 after we saw the problems our community was facing — lack of jobs for women and youth, shortage of food such as vegetables and meat products, people having to travel far to get basic commodities. We wanted to change this. We believe that by empowering the locals, we’ll have taken the first step to turning Africa into one big economic giant.

The vision for Chabana Farms is not only to provide food for the nation but to empower individuals in the community. We want to turn Chabana farms into a well known brand, both locally and internationally.

How did you feel when you heard you made the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) list and what was the most difficult part  about applying?
When I got the news that I made the TEEP list, I was so excited that someone out there believed in me. The most difficult part about applying was getting internet access. The internet is not readily available in my community, so that was a challenge.

What is your biggest business challenge right now and how do you think TEEP will help address it?
My biggest challenge has always been getting capital to operate and market Chabana Farms. It is important that the company sustains itself so we can in turn empower others in our community. With TEEP, I am hoping to gain more experience in marketing and get some of the funding needed to make us sustainable.

Any words of encouragement to other entrepreneurs out there?
My words of encouragement are that they should not give up. No matter how long the road might seem, if you just persevere, it will all work out.

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We are sharing the stories of 20+ African women entrepreneurs who are beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme and whose ideas can change the world. Follow the TEEPcofoundHER series HERE.

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Caroline Mtongolo: Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle With Mushrooms

A Chemistry graduate from the University of Nairobi, Caroline Mtongolo is the co-founder of Zoi Investment Limited, a company focused on investing in the agribusiness industry in Kenya. With her cofoundher, Waithera Macharia, their aim is to make Zoi Investment a leader in the agribusiness industry in Kenya by providing profitability, quality and alternative products that will contribute towards enhancing living standards in communities.

Although Zoi Investment Limited is mainly involved in mushroom farming, they farm and grow cash crops such as onions, chilies, tomatoes and water melons. They also act as a distributor of agricultural produce by buying from farmers and reselling to both local and international markets.

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Caroline is inspired by ‘Never having to do the same thing twice’  and she finds her balance by being deliberate, planning every move and scheduling tasks to make sure work is done on time; skills that come in handy for the Business Development Director of Zoi Investment. With all the hours she saves by working smart, she spends time exploring the culture of Nairobi, visiting new cafes, experiencing dining and attending events.

Tell us more about Zoi Investment and why you decided to go into mushroom farming.
Our company, Zoi Investment Limited, located in Nairobi, Kenya, deals with mushrooms production. We are currently producing oyster mushrooms and plan to start producing reishi mushrooms soon. We decided to delve into mushroom farming to address two needs that a modern person has: maintaining healthy weight and preventing lifestyle diseases such as obesity.

In fast paced modern environments, it is a great challenge for people, especially women, to access healthy foods hence the upsurge in lifestyle diseases. Zoi Investment prides itself with helping address this critical issue in our generation through our mushroom farm — mushrooms are a very nutritious crop and they have medicinal value.

Also, did you know that currently Kenya imports 150 tons of mushroom annually? This figure is expected to grow with the rise of the middle class in Kenya. There is a clear deficit for mushrooms not only in Kenya, but in international markets like the United Arab Emirates and Asia. Zoi Investment plans to be an instrumental part in providing mushrooms in Kenya to curb importation of mushrooms that denies the local people of Kenya access to employment opportunities.

How did you feel when you heard you were one of the selected Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs and what was the most difficult part about applying?
I watched my acceptance video in disbelief. It was surreal. I almost thought someone was playing a prank on me. Making it, out of 20,000 other African entrepreneurs, was a great honor and I could not stop thanking the Almighty God. I immediately called a few people who are close to my heart and shared the good news. I knew this was the first step of a victorious journey.

The most difficult part for me was coming up with a budget and cost estimates for Zoi Investment. With no prior experience in business planning, I depended a lot on my co-founder, Waithera Macharia, and the internet for help.

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What is your major business challenge and how do you intend to address it?
One of the major challenges for Zoi Investment has been getting capital to acquire good substrate and grow quality mushrooms at a large scale. The capital offered by the Tony Elumelu Foundation will catapult Zoi Investment’s operations and put us on the right track.

What do you hope your business will achieve in the next few months?
I hope to acquire the skills and expertise to kick start Zoi Investment and generate revenues, develop business and social leadership skills, proper branding and business development skills and finally to expand my networks locally and even internationally.

Any words of encouragement to entrepreneurs like yourself?
As long as you have a vision, it will come to pass. Write it down, even though it tarries, it will surely come to pass. Commit it to God, prepare yourself and work hard, a window of opportunity will open up before you know it.

 

*To learn more and stay up to date, follow Zoi Investmet Limited on Twitter and Facebook; and Caroline on Twitter.
**special shout out to Averi Thomas-Moore for contributing immensely to the making of this interview

cofoundHER facts
Full name: Caroline Mtongolo
Country: Kenya
Education: BSc Chemistry, University of Nairobi
Sector: Food and agriculture
Business in one sentence: We help people, especially the modern woman, maintain a healthy weight and prevent lifestyle disease such as obesity by providing them with easy access to mushrooms.

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Every day for the next few days, we will share the stories of 30+ African women entrepreneurs whose ideas can change the world. These women are idea and early stage entrepreneurs, with businesses less than three years old, who are beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme.

We are sharing their experiences in hopes that their stories will inspire someone out there to take the leap and go after their dreams. Hope you enjoy their stories as much as we enjoyed putting them together. Follow our daily stories using the hashtag #TEEPcofoundHER or visit cofoundHER (www.cofoundher.com) for updates.

 

Abisoye Habib: Unearthing Nigeria’s Agribusiness Potential

Everyone knows that food business is good business, yet, only a few entrepreneurs that we have met think of starting a company to address food related opportunities like production, packaging and food security. For some, changing the world means tackling more complex high tech problems, but what better way to transform a country than by disrupting something we do everyday…eat.

A view that is still prevalent in Nigeria is that agriculture is just a means of survival; it is not seen as a true business that can transform an entire country. ~ Abisoye Habib

Today, we interview one lady who plans to take on the food and agriculture industry in Nigeria by making packaged fruits and vegetables readily available for all.

What does your company do and how would it change the world?

We grow, process and package fresh fruits and vegetables for consumption within Nigeria and worldwide.

A view that is still prevalent in Nigeria is that agriculture is just a means of survival; it is not seen as a true business that can transform an entire country. So, our mission is to be a catalyst for food security, job creation and youth empowerment in Nigeria, and all over Africa.

We want to play a pivotal part in transforming what agribusiness should really be, by increasing food production, limiting our dependence on foreign imports, spurring job creation, and creating a new reality in our society of what positive changes agribusiness can bring about.

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How did you feel when you heard you were one of the selected Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs and what was the most difficult part about applying?

I wanted to jump out the window. lol 🙂 I was so excited, I was shaking! It felt great to see that this idea I’ve had in my head for so long is being validated by other people and it definitely gave me the extra boost of confidence to keep pressing forward.

The most difficult part about applying was trying to put all my thoughts down into a coherent plan that can be executed within my business environment. When you have a business idea in your head, you have so many thoughts swirling. Putting all those thoughts down into a format that someone else can clearly see the benefits of what you are trying to achieve can be very challenging.

What is your major business challenge and how do you intend to address it?

The number one business challenge we are facing right now is navigating the terrain. How can we locate resources and sift through all the noise and distraction that comes with running a business in Africa.

Thankfully, being part of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme, we get assigned a mentor who is seasoned in the African business climate and brings a wealth of knowledge that will help me avoid pitfalls. With their help, in the coming year, I expect aggressive growth for my business.

Any words of encouragement to someone who is thinking of starting a business?

Don’t be afraid to take that first step, no matter how little. Once you make that initial move, the fear melts away and is replaced by an adrenaline rush like no other. You can do this. And you will succeed.

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We’ll be on the look out for packaged fruits and vegetables from Abisoye Habib’s company. To find out more about her, follow Abisoye on Twitter.

Every day for the next few days, we will share the stories of 30+ African women entrepreneurs whose ideas can change the world. These women are idea and early stage entrepreneurs, with businesses less than three years old, who are beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme.

We are sharing their experiences in hopes that their stories will inspire someone out there to take the leap and go after their dreams. Hope you enjoy their stories as much as we enjoyed putting them together. Follow our daily stories using the hashtag #TEEPcofoundHER or visit cofoundHER (www.cofoundher.com) for updates.