Organic empowerment in a Zambian community

3 July 2013
ITC News
Opening up the markets for mango farmers in Zambia who have discovered the benefits of organic certification

Dorothy Eriksson and her husband Rolf have been co-owners of the Chankwakwa farm in Kabwe, Zambia, for 40 years. Over the years, they have met many milestones, but one memory stands out in her mind: the day their natural food-processing business received its Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) certification, reaching an international standard for food safety.

‘I remember that scream from the girls when I told them, “We’ve passed!” We went totally wild because we knew that a door had been opened,’ says Dorothy Eriksson.

The HACCP certification opened the way for Chankwakwa to take its first tentative steps towards expanding overseas. The company began shipping sun-dried mangoes to Hansen’s Ice Cream in Denmark in the spring of 2011, and now exports about 300 kilograms of mangoes to Hansen’s each year. Chankwakwa is well established locally, with products such as jams, sun-dried fruits and tomato sauces sold in three major supermarket chains: Pick n Pay, SPAR and Shoprite Group.

According to Eriksson, Chankwakwa is fast becoming a household name in Zambia. Since its transition in 2000 from a farm-only business to a food-processing company, revenue has grown about 200%. But getting to this point was not easy.

Getting certified

Business was ‘very stagnant’ during the first seven years, says Eriksson. As commercial farmers, the Erikssons at first did not have the technical knowledge to apply for certifications or to run a processing plant.

‘In Zambia, we take it for granted that we are organic, and that’s maybe because mangoes grow without any help at all,’ says Eriksson. ‘We came to realize that to be organic, you’ve got to have the certification. You’ve got to have the traceability.’

The Erikssons learned about organic certification through training and support from several organizations, including the International Trade Centre (ITC). In addition to the HACCP certification, Chankwakwa now has certifications from the Fairtrade Foundation, which ensures farmers are paid at least market price for their products, and Ecocert, an international standard for organic goods. The Erikssons had a reason for establishing their food-processing business in this way. ‘It was right from the beginning that my husband and I realized we had to do something for the community,’ says Eriksson.

From fields to factories

Giving back to the community meant providing local farmers with sustainable jobs. Chankwakwa organized farming families into cooperatives and trained them to grow and harvest mangoes, guavas, bananas and tomatoes. By doing so, Chankwakwa tapped into what Eriksson describes as a new market in the country.

‘Mango has always been a tree that you planted to sit and entertain your guests under. It’s never been looked at as a fruit to make money with,’ says Eriksson. ‘It’s amazing, we’ve got our farmers so excited now and beginning to get their seeds back and make more seedlings.’

People who would throw away fresh fruit because they were unable to sell it now had the opportunity to sell them at a fair price. Today Chankwakwa employs 232 farmers to harvest fruits and vegetables, with one group working near the processing plant in Kabwe and another in the Luapula Province, about 700 kilometres away. Eriksson says ITC-assisted farmers in Luapula receive organic certification and training on the management of mango trees, which has resulted in higher quantities of the fruit and an expanded mango-processing season.

In line with its purpose of functioning as a sustainable and environmentally friendly business, Chankwakwa uses six solar-powered dryers and a large hydropowered electric dryer to process the fruits and vegetables. Once they are processed, they are used in jams or sauces, or packaged as dried fruit to be sold in markets around the country.

Challenges of tapping into global markets

Even as the local market for its products continues to grow and farmers find more work opportunities, Chankwakwa lacks buyers in the global market. Hansen’s Ice Cream in Denmark remains Chankwakwa’s only out-ofcountry buyer.

Finding new export partners overseas would create significant growth in business because products would be shipped in units of hundreds of kilograms, rather than 10 or 20 kilograms at a time, as they are for shipments to local supermarkets.

The major challenge is not only finding more buyers, but the high cost of shipping the products. Eriksson says it costs about US$ 5 a kilogram to ship dried mangoes to Denmark.

‘Zambia is landlocked and to get products freighted into Europe, freight charges are so high that our mangoes are not as competitive in price,’ says Eriksson. Despite the ‘fantastic’ feedback on the taste and quality of the mangoes, in the end, it comes down to price. To make its products attractive to global buyers, Eriksson says Chankwakwa will need to ship larger volumes to more customers at a time.

‘Big hopes’ for the future

The founders of Chankwakwa run their business with four goals in mind: produce highquality products, empower people in rural areas, become the biggest producer of sun-dried fruit in the country, and export to the region and to overseas markets.

Eriksson says she has ‘very big hopes’ in terms of achieving the fourth goal. In the next two years, the company is aiming to increase the number of farmers it employs from about 200 to 500 to meet rising demand. Chankwakwa is in talks with four new clients interested in mango shipments, which could boost exports to three or four tonnes of mangoes every year, versus the current 300 or 400 kilograms.

Expansion of the business could also involve working with farmers in the Western Province of Zambia, as ‘there aren’t enough mangoes’ in the Central Province, according to Eriksson. Although the focus is currently on mangoes, as the business continues to grow, attention will shift to other fruits and vegetables as well.

Chankwakwa has come a long way since it started in 1973, when the Erikssons set out on a mission to give back to their neighbours.

‘It was not that we looked at it as a business, we didn’t realize it would even be exportable,’ she says. ‘We identified the community first.’