WHEN a door closes, another one opens. But, for Amina Mhando (early 30s), this adage almost eluded her. For her, life was more of a paradox, as when everything seemed well, tragedy struck and unexpectedly, all her dreams were shattered and there was no light at the end of a dark tunnel as fate had thrown her into uncertainty.
Amina found herself in this confusion when she found herself jobless, after the company she was working for had suddenly closed. She was forced into panic gear, as she did not know what next to do. All the efforts to find a job were fruitless, as no company seemed ready to absorb her.
And, when she gave up from hoping from one place to another looking for employment, she settled at home, hoping that the gods will one day smile on her.
But, staying at home was not her take, so she ventured into entrepreneurship, where she tried her luck on a number of projects but she hit a brick wall.
However, lady luck smiled on her one day, when she visited her parents in Moshi. It never dawned on her that a mere visit to her mother’s place could change her life for good. At that time, her son disliked eating, even after preparing him different kinds of nutritional porridge; and this bothered her a lot.
“His grandmother made him pro-vitamin A maize flour porridge; he surprised all of us after consuming the whole bowl of porridge without any struggle, then this opened my eyes and I started to research and read a lot about nutrition,” Amina said.
She explained that when they came back to Dar es Salaam, she tried to search for the same flour but it was nowhere to be found.
“I started looking for it but in vain, until one day when I visited the Dar es Salaam International Trade Fair (Sabasaba) and found it displayed by one of the exhibitors; so I turned this challenge into a business opportunity,” she hinted.
With only 250,000/- to start the business, Amina remembers to have bought only 40kg of pro vitamin A maize flour from Moshi to start the business and the rest of the money was used to buy packaging materials and to cover other production costs.
“I was jobless and I had no access to finances (loan) from financial institutions. But, the only thing that gave me strength to push forward was my commitment to accomplish my dream of running my own business,” the visibly happy Amina said.
To secure her customers, she banks mostly on social media to connect with them, especially through instagram: (mama_organic_2017) and equally through word of mouth (brand recommendation), and participating is exhibitions and promotions by visiting open shows.
Amina confides that when she started the business, last year, it was somehow difficult since she had no food processing background, so she had to consult professionals.
However, as time went by and for her to become more professional, she joined Sokoine University Graduate Entrepreneurship Cooperative (SUGECO) for short trainings, and incorporated their ideas with hers on food processing and how to integrate bio fortified crops in agribusiness for vitamin A-rich crops. She also went to the International Potatoes Centre, Building Nutritious Food Basket (BNFB project) and SIDO.
Armed with the skills, she fully entered the market and enlightened the public who were not familiar with bio fortified crops (viazi lishe and mahindi lishe).
So, with the growing market, she further embarked on spreading the message of what the right nutrition should be for the wellbeing and right growth of kids under the age of five, who still have low immunity against diseases.
And, how nutrition can benefit people who are vulnerable to micronutrient deficiencies, such as children, pregnant and breastfeeding women and others.
“I made sure that I have enough knowledge and information about bio fortified crops, through attending different trainings. Then I used social media to spread the word of bio fortification. This approach helped to increase sells and build my confidence in the business,” she added.
Amina further pointed out that after her first born (son) who also is subjected to the nutrition (charity begins at home) began showing positive changes; she gathered courage to invest further into the business.
She hints that social media has helped her to connect with a good number of customers, within a very short time and at low cost in comparison to the past.
“We do not use a lot of money and energy to market the business, but customers get the chance to share their views about our products and services. If you use social media in the right way and take advantage of it, it builds your brand and connects you with potential customers for your business to grow,” she points out.
Amina said her business observes high level of hygiene and is certified by the Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority (TFDA).
“Yes, we have certification from TFDA and about TBS (Tanzania Bureau of Standard) we have already sent application for certification of our products and they have replied to our application and now we have started the process of certification. I believe we will be done soon with the process and receive the certificate,” she said.
On her future plans, Amina says the fact that her business has been picking up, she thinks of also embarking on horticulture, as basis to grow organic crops.
“I want to be one of the few farmers in Tanzania who grow organic vegetables.
The world is now conquered by non-organic crops, especially vegetables such us green pepper, carrots, green vegetables etc. So, I want to change that and make people enjoy the taste of organic vegetables. This is where the name of Mama Organic came from, my dream is to grow 100 per cent organic vegetables,” she points out.
She said that on her current business, the plan is to invest more in modern production tools which will somehow reduce the cost of production, hence setting low prices for her products.
“I want my products to be available at affordable prices to ensure market sustainability as well as enabling even low income people to access these bio fortified crops, as a way of reducing hidden hunger in Tanzania,” she said.
To other women who are not involved in any entrepreneurship errands, she advices them not be scared to accomplish their dreams.
“Instead of looking for reasons why one can’t, one should focus on the reasons why one can; what one needs is not a million dollar capital or a production area, or materials or customers to buy the products,” she said.
She added that what matters is willingness and commitment to do what one has planned and then other things would come eventually.
“Secondly, when you want to start a business ask yourself what you like to do most; think of the things that you would love to do even for free. Then look for the opportunities which can come out of it. Grab that opportunity and go for it.
“Do not do that business because your friend or your family member is doing the same; and, do not venture into a business because someone else is doing the same business and have succeeded a lot in that business. No, you should create your own path, believe in yourself that you can do better than them and be passionate with what you have decided to do.” Amina says.
She added that apart from running her business as the sole proprietor, she is also a small-scale farmer.
“I grow orange sweet potatoes, maize and cassava and sometimes sell organic chickens which I buy from the village and sell them here in Dar es Salaam”, she says.
Armed with a BA Degree in Microfinance and Enterprise Development from Moshi University of Cooperative and Business studies (MUCOBs), Amina’s products are produced at SIDO Vingunguti in Dar es Salaam, and supplies retail shops, and supermarkets in the city and beyond.
Asked to shed light on what bio fortification refers to, Ms Mhando said, “Bio fortification is the process of increasing nutritional value of food crops by increasing the density of vitamins and minerals in crops through conventional plant breeding and agronomic practices or biotechnology.”She further said that currently, there are only three bio fortified crops in Tanzania namely pro-vitamin A maize, orange sweet potatoes and high iron and zinc beans.
However, her business rotates on providing the public with mostly kids’ flour enriched with vitamin A, maize flour, Orange sweet potatoes flour, high iron beans and high iron beans flour.
She said other ingredients in the package include grinded sweet potatoes, and pumpkin seeds flour mixed with soya beans.
And, with focus and determination even the sky will never be the limit for Amina as she dreams big for her business.