Dorothy Eriksson, a Zambian Agro-Entrepreneur and co-founder of Chankwakwa’s agro-processing factory is making waves in the Zambian dried fruit market, with her successful family run farm in Kabwe where they make jams, sauces, dried fruit and soya products.
The company exports dried mango to Europe and supplies jams, sauces, dried fruit, honey and soya products to various supermarket chains throughout Zambia and Europe.
Eriksson, I’m an interview with ‘HowwemadeitinAfrica’ recalls the late 1990s and the challenges Chankwakwa had to overcome. “We were ‘big’ farmers; if you lost money, you lost big,” she says. At the time, the 1,224-hectare farm focused on cattle, maize and soya beans. With customers struggling financially, the farm found itself in a position where it was being paid in promissory notes.
“Instead of getting cash for our harvest and meat, these notes indicated we would be paid the following year. This led to such financial debt, the bank even decided to take us to court,” she says.
That pivotal visit to the fresh produce market made it clear there was an opportunity to process fruits and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste. “That’s where it started; getting a clear vision and working on it. I began to dream about building a really big factory. In 2000, we put this into action and started building,” Eriksson says.
She appointed a full-time bricklayer and, using the little bit of income from the farm’s cattle business, the first bricks were laid.
Eriksson’s daughter, Nicola, was working in Zambia after finishing her studies in economics. She helped the company to apply for a grant from the Norwegian embassy. The application was successful and the building could be completed. “We started processing on a very small scale late that year,” Eriksson remembers.
Chankwakwa began by drying mangoes. One of the initial investments was to procure solar dryers for the dehydration of the mangoes, and later for tomatoes, with funding received from the Danish International Development Agency.
Eriksson and her team quickly learnt some of the mangoes were not suited to drying. They used this leftover fruit to produce jams.
In the beginning, the big retail clients weren’t lining up to buy; Eriksson and her small team had to take the products to the local markets and sell there. “We did a lot of cash sales. My father was a businessman, in retail, so it is in my blood. Once we started producing, we took what we had and went to Saturday markets and into Lusaka to individual shops.”
“We targeted them because they make their own decisions after looking at your product, without having to convene big meetings first,” she says. “We also attended expos and agricultural trade fairs.”
It was at one of these fairs that a visitor to the stall asked why the company didn’t export its dried mango. In the spring of 2011, the company began shipping sun-dried mangoes to Hansen’s Ice Cream in Denmark.
Chankwakwa works with small-scale farmers in both the Central and Luapula provinces. All the farmers are grouped into co-operatives and they follow Fairtrade and organic practices.
Dorothy Eriksson and her husband Rolf, who is originally from Sweden, ran a successful commercial farm, Chankwakwa, in Kabwe, Zambia, from the 1970s through to the 1990s. But towards the end of the ‘90s, the economy faced severe challenges and the family struggled to keep the farm.
One day, Eriksson visited the local fresh produce market. Many of the mangoes that vendors were trying to sell were about to go rotten as the supply far outstripped demand. She realised there was an opportunity to process the fruit into different value-added products.
The dream for Chankwakwa’s agro-processing factory was born and now, the company exports dried mango to Europe and supplies jams, sauces, dried fruits, honey and soya products to various supermarket chains throughout Zambia, including Shoprite and Pick n Pay.
Eriksson attributes the success the company has achieved to the strong relationships built over time with the contract farmers. Chankwakwa goes the extra mile. During harvest, it employs casual labour to get the mangoes off the trees as fast as possible and supplies the transport for the mangoes to the processing facility. “In the beginning, when we went out there, they didn’t trust us. The relationship and commitment from our side have been most important and it has paid off,” she says.