Villagers in Mwenezi and surrounding areas are pocketing at least US$5 million from selling the indigenous mapfura/marula fruit to a factory opened by President Mnangagwa at Rutenga Growth point last year.
The Mwenezi Mapfura Industrial Park is a processing and value-addition plant set up in response to calls by the Government for rural communities to benefit from locally available resources.
Mapfura/marula are used to produce juices, alcoholic beverages, edible oils and stock feeds which are currently being sold locally with plans to export already underway.
As of last Saturday, the special edible oils which are on demand had run out of stock at the plant.
The opening of the plant has since unlocked more opportunities for the Mwenezi community through employment creation, boosting local transporters ferrying mapfura and wines and the community is accessing low priced wine.
The plant was built by the National Biotechnology Authority of Zimbabwe (NBAZ), an autonomous research body under the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development.
It is the first plant at Rutenga, a sprawling urban settlement and the major trading centre in Mwenezi district which is angling for town status.
NBAZ quality and control manager, Mr Wilfred Magidhi, said they were overwhelmed by the response from villagers to supply mapfura.
Mr Magidhi said they had resorted to issuing cards with vendor numbers in order to avoid repeating paying the same person while others are yet to benefit as some even deliver more than thrice a day.
“The area has so much mapfura that we receive between 30 000 to 40 000 tonnes per day. The farmers are paid cash in forex so the demand is high. Some come as far as Maranda.
“To manage them, we make them stand in a queue so that we select their products which are graded in the quality control section. We buy in kilogrammes with grade A being paid US$5 and grade B US$4,” he said.
Mr Magidhi said at least 500 villagers visit the plant on a daily basis to deliver about 30 tonnes of mapfura, some using ox-drawn carts and lorries. Being a seasonal fruit, NBAZ buys mapfura between January and March.
“In terms of wine we are producing about 1 000 bottles per day. So far our readily available market is the local community. We are in the process of opening up new markets even abroad,” he said.
“Some from outside Mwenezi are also coming to buy. Plans are also in the pipeline to start producing marula cream. We are still gathering the necessary material.”
The opening of the plant dovetails with the Second Republic’s rural industrialisation strategy which is crucial towards the attainment of Vision 2030 of making the country an upper middle income economy.
A beneficiary, Mr Edison Nherera, who is among those making a killing out of the project, thanked the Government for the initiative which is transforming their lives.
“When I started supplying mapfura some people even tried to discourage me. I would hire a small open truck. I am now hiring lorries,” he said.
“Some who were vagabonds are now eking out a living through supplying mapfura. The company employed hordes of people most of whom were among those migrating to neighbouring South Africa. This coming season we are anticipating good business.”
Another beneficiary, Mrs Consillia Mapondi, said initially, the people of Rutenga didn’t understand the concept of an industry.
“Villagers are now able to cater for basic needs including paying school fees for their children. We used to just throw them (mapfura) away without knowing that we had our own ‘gold’ which can extricate us from poverty.
“We never knew that our area is endowed with riches that can contribute to the economic revival of the country.
“Mapfura are seasonal so we appeal to the Government for irrigation schemes so that we may plant them like citrus trees throughout the year. There is a need for plantations of mapfura,” she said.
Mrs Mapondi said even the education of learners has improved as they have firsthand experience of what an industry is.
Another beneficiary Mr Lloyd Shumba said apart from empowering youths and women through employment creation, the project has also boosted business.
“The wine is on demand here in Mwenezi. Its taste is just similar if not better than all other local or imported wines. We used to drink the home-brewed one commonly known as mukumbi.
“The distilled one is even better, hence its demand is high. Bottle stores are buying it at a cheaper price since it is being brewed locally and there are less transport costs,” he said.
Mrs Senzeni Chasura said the money being paid for mapfura is fair and given timeously.
“I used to struggle to buy groceries, but now all that is a thing of the past.
“What is more encouraging is that we are paid on time and that boosts our motivation,” she said.
A granny, Sekuru Canada Ngara from the Rutoro area said lives are being uplifted.
“I have been in Rutenga for decades. It is pleasing that the area is now starting to be developed.
“The mapfura plant is the first one in the area. It clearly shows that the Government is sincere when it is saying that no one and no place is being left behind,” he said.
Mr Brighton Mahuranhova said the transport sector in the area was also reaping benefits from the plant.
“We are getting a lot of business from the community to transport their mapfura. On a good day I take home up to US$50,” he said.
“We are being hired to distribute wine around the area.”