Zimbabwean Farmers Get Tech Savvy to Stay in Business
*HARARE, Zimbabwe—Quickfresh co-founder Rumbidzai Mbambo makes daily runs supplying fresh produce to her growing list of clientele.
Today is no different.
Before winding up the last of her scheduled deliveries and returning to the warehouse in Waterfalls, the 27-year-old Mbambo sets course for Glen View, a high-density suburb in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe has been on lockdown since March 30. In mid-May, a day before earlier movement restrictions were slated to end, President Emmerson Mnangagwa extended the lockdown indefinitely.
The government has stated that these measures were imposed in a bid to curb the possible spread of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 380 people and killed four, according to data from the World Health Organization.
Although fresh produce markets are open around the country, most Zimbabweans have shunned visiting the overcrowded marketplaces to limit their chances of contracting COVID-19. Meanwhile, the country’s economy has been reeling from hyperinflation and the recent ravages of drought that have left the southern African country tottering on the brink of food insecurity.
Amid all this, Mbambo saw an opportunity, and she quickly moved to fill the void. She told Zenger News the situation in the country presented a unique opportunity.
“The government’s lockdown measures came about unexpectedly, leaving farmers with ready produce stranded,” she said. “With an already strained marketing system, the small holder farmer would struggle whilst nutrition in homes comprised.”
This unique set of challenges enabled Mbambo to set up Quickfresh to ensure convenience to customers, she said. The startup makes home deliveries twice a week and is currently working with more than six farmers in Harare and surrounding areas, including Domboshawa and Marondera.
The agripreneurs, who are also tech savvy, have provided a mobile money payment platform for their customers. In addition, Quickfresh also markets its products using social media platforms, such as Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, the most popular messaging app in Africa, according to a 2018 report by We Are Social and Hootsuite.
“We do have responsive and interactive online platforms where people can get in touch with us,” Mbambo said. “We are also finalizing our state-of-the-art website which will create more shopping convenience for our [customers].”
The company accepts all forms of local and international payment, including mobile money through apps, such as as Econet Wireless’s EcoCash and Netone’s OneMoney.
On the backdrop of the pandemic, the government announced a ZW$18 billion ($60 million) stimulus package meant to revive the economy. In the first two weeks of the lockdown, an estimated $10 million worth of fresh produce was lost, according to the Zimbabwe Farmers Union, which represents farmers’ interests.
Paul Zakariya, an executive director at the organization, said the short shelf life of produce means that most farmers continue to incur huge losses.
“Many farmers have suffered immensely under coronavirus lockdown,” he said. “Fresh produce, which is by nature highly perishable, has not been able to reach traditional markets because of restrictions to movements, labor to finish off crops, and harvest has not been easy to come by. Also, transport to traditional mass markets is still limited.”
Desire Jongwe is the executive director at Farm Fresh, a startup that makes home deliveries of vegetables on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The company is based in Mutare, the fourth-largest city in Zimbabwe, and its customers include people who are concerned about the coronavirus and would not want to visit the market.
Jongwe said Zimbabweans in the diaspora were also using Farm Fresh to order vegetables for their families and friends in Mutare.
Back in Harare, Fresh in a Box, started by Kuda Musasiwa in 2018, has partnered with well over 2,000 farmers across the country.
“We rely heavily on technology, from the inception of our company, to take orders from our customers primarily through our website. The website is plugged into all mobile money networks in Zimbabwe and accepts money from all international debit cards and payment platforms,” Musasiwa said.
Fresh in A Box uses artificial intelligence bots to interact with customers on various social media platforms, and it takes an hour for clients to receive their orders, he said.
The use of technology and app-based solutions has ensured that farmers keep their ventures afloat while at the same time growing a steady clientele base wary of breaking the social distancing rules.
“There is limited interaction. When we are packing and when we deliver our products, we use hand sanitizers,” Jongwe said.
Musasiwa is adamant that his company makes sure that workers do not become conduits of the coronavirus when they are packing and delivering farm fresh produce.
“We spray our cars, and we observe social distancing in our warehouse,” he said. “We have automated most of our work to reduce the number of the team working in the warehouse.” Employees also wear masks.
Echoing Musasiwa’s sentiments, Mbambo said that QuickFresh strives to deliver happiness—not the virus—through farm fresh produce. All precautions have been put in place to ensure that their produce is sanitized and adhering to health protocols when handling orders from clients.
(Edited by Lenny Ruvaga and Natalie Gross.)
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