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Fresh in a Box: Enabling Market Access for Zimbabwean Farmers

“For us, it has always been utilizing technology and the data we have amassed over the years to create solutions for everyday problems. We then share these solutions with the people in our community, and, sooner or later, that becomes a viable business. This is how Fresh in a Box was born,” Nomaliso Musasiwa, Founder and Managing Director of Fresh in a Box,  says when asked how Fresh in a Box started. 

I am an internet entrepreneur, and concurrently with Fresh in a Box, I run two other startups; Let’s Farm Africa and Deets Card. All three of these are intertwined to help farmers produce great yields and be equally bankable as well as access finance in a world where food security is such a big conversation but nobody is willing to finance the producer of the food. 

Fresh in a Box is an e-commerce platform that aggregates vegetables and fruits from smallholder farmers and delivers them to people’s homes every day. At Fresh in a Box, we use our technology solutions to solve everyday problems. The smallholder farmers whom we work with have as little as 100 square meters to over 2 hectares of land.

I’ve got tomatoes

When we started farming, we had some groups we were selling to but they were not treating us right.  My husband took to Twitter and posted that we had tomatoes; “I’ve got these tomatoes; if you want tomatoes, I can bring them to you and you can give me whatever you want to give me in return.” From that tweet, we subsequently had 15 other smallholder farmers who had different things like lettuce, broccoli, and baby marrows as big as courgettes. We then put all those vegetables in a box, we called it Fresh in a Box and delivered it to people’s homes. The adoption was organic and driven by word of mouth. 

We knew how to utilize social media, but we needed to see how to make this process less painful for us. Earlier,  we had already been selling hoodies online, so we said, why not sell the vegetables online? This is why I say we are tech entrepreneurs at the beginning of it all. We use technology to solve whatever problems that we are looking at: be it the produce case of Fresh in a Box or trying to raise financing for smallholder farmers with Let’s Farm Africa, or with Deets Card; a digital NFC-powered card which enables one to exchange their business contacts without having to produce thousands of small business cards.

Agriculture plays a very critical role in Zimbabwe, contributing up to 17% to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Agriculture provides employment and income for 60-70 % of the population, supplies 60% of the raw materials required by the industrial sector and contributes 40% of total export earnings. One of the major challenges that farmers face continent-wide is the lack of access to markets.

I have a great relationship and understanding with my mentor. We have a common ground; an interest in the politics of our nations and their similarities. When looking at our business and how it is structured, the conversation tends to always remain as generic as possible because my mentor doesn’t have a deep context of Southern Africa, let alone of my country. Our conversations remain as broad as possible, sending me back to try and investigate the line of thinking. 

Takeaways from Generation Africa Fellowship Program 

Should I say that there is a specific focus that the mentorship sessions have helped me gain? It would be the design of the business model and choosing which part of the broader business of Fresh in a Box had become an aggregation, a logistics company, and an e-commerce platform. Which one is the main business and what is the business model defined there? From that point, you can talk about the subsequent activities that happen in the business and that also bring in cash flow. 

The mentorship has opened my eyes to determine the actual business of Fresh in a Box; aggregation of smallholder farming. Whether we bring in other players or take action depends on factors like the financial impact on the business, and the efficiency of getting the fresh produce to people’s homes because fresh is our brand. Fresh in this case speaks to quality, quantity and essentially the efficiency of how the product gets to the customer and more so consistently doing that over time. This is the biggest lesson I have picked up so far from the mentorship. 

 

 

 

What’s Next After GAFP?

I am likely to go into another accelerator program to develop the technology side of the business. For the growth phase, we are currently making strides to expand our operations into South Africa, where there is a larger scope of smallholder farmers. Many of these farmers have less than 2 hectares of land and produce the same type of vegetables as Zimbabwean farmers but are unable to get to market because of their small volumes. With our already existing technology, we plan to start with Johannesburg and then gradually expand across South Africa. 


Interviewed by Juliet Hinga 

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