In Zambia, mangos are so cherished they’re said to have been created from the goodness of God. For generations, families have planted a tree for every newborn child. The fruit trees litter the landscape and are found in back gardens, school yards, along streets, in the wild and throughout farm land, mostly growing unmaintained by human hand. They are abundant in season, their sweet aroma filling the air, and Zambians casually grab them from trees as they walk past. So it’s surprising to learn there is no heritage of mango cultivation and processing for commercial purposes in the southern African nation. Luckily, this unexploited horticultural opportunity was ripe for picking for Zambian farmer Dorothy Eriksson, who recognised the potential in the midst of her own financial crisis almost 15 years ago.
“At the time, the bank had taken us to court to seize our commercial farm that we had owned for almost three decades. As a born-again believer, I’d been praying for the Lord to give us a break. I was walking in the markets and my eyes were opened to all the wasted fresh mango, it was strewn everywhere and a little light went off in my head. So I began to research ways of processing mango. The task took my focus off the court case, and I buried myself in the work of developing a new product for the farm.”
Dorothy purchased Chankwakwa Farm in Kabwe, about 150 km north of Lusaka, with her Swedish husband Rolf in 1974. The pair had met when Dorothy, a hostess with Zambia Airways, was visiting her sister. Rolf was working with small-scale farmers in Kabwe on behalf of SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and fell in love with his new wife’s country.
“We were so young but we had a big vision!” Dorothy laughs. “With a loan from my widowed mother, we purchased a 1227-hectare commercial farm and christened it Chankwakwa. It was there that I came to find my God-given talent and planted my first orchard of orange trees, and it was there we happily raised our four children.”
For many years, the farm was productive in its growth of maize, soya beans, and tomatoes and breeding of cattle. Dorothy opened a restaurant in town in the early 80s, followed by a restaurant ten years later. Life was going well until the late 90s when the farm started to struggle due to ineffective government agricultural policies.
Dorothy’s mango “a-ha” moment came at the height of the crisis, with the family on the verge of losing the farm. The decision to set up processing facilities turned Chankwakwa around. Because the production and processing of fruits are labour intensive, Dorothy saw an opportunity not only for her own family but also for others in the community to earn an income. With proper storage and a small processing facility, the fruits could be sold in a variety of forms throughout the year rather than just in-season where much of the yield rots.
“I did a lot of experimentation and endlessly researched processing techniques. We started by cooking jams on braziers in 5-litre pots. We hired a local brick layer with our own savings to lay the foundations for the factory and then we got a loan from the SIDA to finish construction. Our next investment was solar dryers to dehydrate the mango – we got that money from a Danida grant. When we expanded in 2003, we got a commercial bank loan, which was matched with a grant by the Ministry of Agriculture. We also received two motor bikes and a utility truck for marketing, which made a big difference to the business. I never knew there were so many organisations supporting small businesses like ourselves,” Dorothy exclaims.
With the help of an extension agriculture officer, Chankwakwa Farm organised 266 local farmers into a fairtrade collective that sets high minimum prices for crops and yields a shared profit for the local community. Farmers receive training on organic principles and the EcoCert requirements needed to export to Europe. A critical success factor for the business, all the processing is done in a HACCP-certified factory, which requires the building to meet strict standards to minimize cross-contamination.
“Getting both HACCP and organic certification was a turning point for us as it enables us to export to Europe. These are annual certifications so it’s always a challenge for us to obtain funding for the process,” Dorothy explains.
Today, about 1000 farmers in the Central and Luapula province are enrolled in the Chankwakwa collective, which sells the big mango (dodo) and other fruits such as guavas, oranges, and lemons to the farm to be processed into a ready-to-eat healthy organic dried fruit snack. Purees from mango, guavas, oranges, and lemons are also processed into a variety of six jams. The farm employs 50 women during mango season and has 15 full-time employees. The dried mango is exported to Hansen’s Ice Cream in Denmark, where it is used as an ingredient in their ice cream, and sold locally in 26 Shoprites and all the Pick n Pay outlets as well as privately owned supermarkets and market stalls.
With the market for organic fruit on the rise, Dorothy is very optimistic about the future. Two of her children and a daughter-in-law are involved in the family business, which is very important for the 65-year-old.
“This comforts me as the community is so close to my heart. We’ve empowered small-scale farmers by giving them the know-how needed to produce quality crops and transformed their lives with the ability to earn a living and support their families. Our involvement in health, education, and the environment in the local area benefit around 1000 families and we brought renewed pride in the cultivation of the precious indigenous mango trees. I would not like to see this dream die after my death.”
Considering all the mango’s health benefits, Dorothy is guaranteed to have many productive years ahead and plenty of time to inspire the growth of other agri-businesses across Zambia.
Always pay your debts! Maintain communications with your debtors, even if you fail to have the money on time. Keep the relationship solid.
There are many organisations that fund and build capacity in small business projects. Do some research and connect with NGOs to see where the opportunities lie.
Connect with organisations that enable you to meet with others in the business like the Chamber of Commerce, Farmers Union etc.
Remain focused and passionate about
your project. Don’t
give up so easily.
DREAM & DO
Allow yourself to
dream BIG. Go for it!
Be Fearless. Failure is not an option.
Dorothy’s story first appeared in Women Creating Wealth, A Collection of Stories of Women Entrepreneurs from across Africa. You order or download a copy here.