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Nkayi women venture into umsuzwane tea project

by Bianca Mlilo
30 Mar 2016 at 19:39hrs | Views
GENERATING an income is a nightmare for many people living in rural communities in Zimbabwe.

But while many rural dwellers sit and complain about Zimbabwe's high unemployment rate, worsened by escalating company closures and retrenchments in urban areas, women from Nkayi North constituency are innovatively confronting their problems.

They have made a name for themselves by forging a market for a wild fever tree leaves, which are consumed as green tea in Japan and China.

Some of the women are already in the eastern countries to take orders for the tea, which is made from the leaves of the "umsuzwane/ zumbani" tree, says Sithembiso Nyoni, the Minister of Small to Medium Enterprises and Cooperative Development.

Nyoni is also the MP for Nkayi North.

To her, this group of women has mastered the art of enterprise development, after they grabbed the opportunity to make money from wild tree leaves.

Simangaliso Mlalazi, one of the entrepreneurs, said although their job was strenuous, what counts at the end of it all is being able to fend for her family.

"The greatest challenge we face is that we use our hands to pluck the leaves off the trees and that makes our hands and susceptible to pain," she said.

"Okunye yikuthi isihlahla lesi siyahitsha, so kuyabhowa ukusebenza laso," (Another issue is that the leaves give out an unpleasant smell, so it's not fun being around it).

Experts say the tree leaves contain medicinal properties and can be used to cure coughs, colds, stomach problems, headaches, rashes, fevers and bronchitis.

Most people in rural communities also use it to scare away mosquitoes and other troublesome insects.

Mlalazi works with a friend, Maria Gotowori, who said they can pick as much as 50kg of the leaves in a single trip and want to increase their output, which will then translate to an increase in their takings since they are part of a division of people in the same venture.

Nyoni, who is patron of the green tea project, was excited at the success of the venture, and spoke of growing the project, as well as bringing in additional sources of income.

"We're taking green tea to Japan and it's being packaged in Harare and now that we've seen that there're a lot of those trees in Nkayi, we'll start packaging it ourselves and selling it; more money will be made that way," said Nyoni.

She added: "These women are not in a co-operative, but have been working as individuals, although we now want to consolidate them into a savings and credit group so they can start working from within that."

The "umsuzwane" tree leaves give off a strong lemon- like smell and is used as bug repellent in many rural homes.

Small holder farmers harvest the leaves during a very short harvesting period, from March to May. An individual can produce up to 200 kilograms of dry leaf material per year.

A shipment of the leaves is expected in Bulawayo en route to Harare for packaging.

Meanwhile, the women have secured a stand at this year's edition of the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair, under the Nkayi Booth.

On exhibition will be green tea, in a bid to attract potential international buyers who will grace the occasion. They will also showcase handbags they have produced, while their efforts will be augmented by other women's projects while men will showcase their wood carvings for the first time. The constituency's trademark hand- woven baskets will also be showcased.

Small to medium enterprises and co-operatives are now a global phenomenon and many economies are now hinged on these SMEs' fiscal contributions.

The SMEs sector in Zimbabwe generates $7,4 billion annually, while a large percentage of Bulawayo's population are unemployed and are vendors who contribute to the country through this integral part of the economy.

Small business owners in Nkayi North are mentored by Hand in Hand, a non-governmental organisation whose mandate is to nurture small business, while Old Mutual offers lessons in financial management.

Entrepreneurs said with such guidance, Nkayi was set to become home to numerous other start-ups and income generating projects.

Nkayi North is home to a number of initiatives, with green tea exports being just one of many.

Source - chronicle