Homes Industries is an agro-processing company based in Karonga. It is owned by Victoria Mwafulirwa who established it 2015.
Five years after its establishment, the company has made a huge impact on local and international markets, winning three awards for 2020.
It won the 2020 Top Exporter to South Africa Award at the Inaugural Malawi Exporter Awards, beating long established companies.
The company also came second in the Top Exporter to the US category. The awards were held on July 29 by the USAid TradeHub in Lilongwe.
Driven by the gap for quality food products, Victoria founded Homes Industries initially producing just groundnut flour (nsinjiro) and sunflower cooking oil.
It has progressed to processing brown rice, white rice and now peanut butter — bringing the company’s products to five.
She felt that processing crops would help Karonga farmers to get more value for their produce.
Says Victoria: “We started making nsinjiro, ensuring that it was not adulterated, as people complained about some of it being mixed with corn flour. The idea was to afford people with nutritious porridge and vegetables.
“So, this was my chance to provide an affordable, but nutritious product. Despite producing a lot of food as a country, many are still malnourished and impoverished. This compelled me to do something to mitigate some of those challenges.”
She says they initially outsourced the milling, but have now purchased their own milling machines.
The business, currently with seven permanent staff, was also inspired by Victoria’s own love for food, having come from a food loving family.
She says: “My family loves organic foods and most of what they eat is homemade. I grew this passion into a business, especially the opportunity to fill the gap for quality farm produce.”
From something small, steadily, Homes Industries has mastered the art of manufacturing, processing and perfecting the trade to a point where they now mill about five tonnes of groundnut flour in a month from the initial one tonne.
Victoria attributes her success to capacity building trainings, interactions, lots of reading and working with several organisations that are into nutrition, just to understand issues about food.
With Malawi as one of the countries with the highest rates of malnourishment where stunting remains at 35-37 percent — she says the food processing company is still devising ways of producing fortified foods to mitigate stunting.
“We are always learning to improve and to give our clients the best,” she says.
The agro-processing company works with over 1 500 smallholder farmers that cultivate the groundnuts, sunflower and rice.
Homes Industries not only provides the farmers — 70 percent of which are women — with seeds and farm inputs, but also builds their capacity in other areas such as bee keeping and buys their produce.
The company also runs a nutrition empowerment programme which focuses on menu diversification, food preparation and food preservation methods.
“Households now have vegetables throughout the year because they can dry them for preservation until the next growing season. This is something many have always known about, but rarely practiced. Because of our interventions, some households can now prepare food differently,” she explains.
The farmers are also encouraged to keep some of their produce for their own consumption and not sell all of it.
They have also been learning about budgeting, village savings and loans; as well as climate sensitive agriculture methods.
Velinas Banda — a member of the Taonga Bee Farming Group which has benefited from the company’s capacity building to produce honey — cites that Homes Industries also helps them identify better markets for the honey.
“We sell the honey in 300 millilitre bottles at K1 500 each. However, when we sell in our communities, the honey fetches lower prices,” she says.
Banda adds that their lives have now transformed with the proceeds realised from the honey sales and farming activities, helping them send children to school and afford some household necessities.
Currently, Homes Industries is working with 50 women groups in different capacities and are targeting to turn them turn into cooperatives so that they can collectively feed into the value chain and earn higher returns.
Five of these groups are already in the process of registering their cooperatives.
“My biggest gratification comes from the fact that we can impact farmers’ lives. We all have something to give to the next person and it is not always a physical gift. When trained by Homes Industries, the farmers train others at home and the cycle continues. And that makes us a catalyst for change,” says Victoria.
Such interventions have earned Victoria the Agri-Entrepreneurship Award of 2020 by the Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (Awief).
Awief is a pan-African entrepreneurship and innovation non-profit organisation.
Its annual awards identify and celebrate African female entrepreneurs to promote excellence in women-led entrepreneurship ventures.
Victoria was among 24 female founders and entrepreneurs from across Africa who competed in the forum’s eight categories.
They included the Young Entrepreneur Award, the Tech Entrepreneur Award, Agri Entrepreneur Award and the Creative Industry Award.
She beat two other finalists from Cameroon and Rwanda in the Agri Entrepreneur Award.
However, Victoria has had her fair share challenges to get where she is— falling many times, but pushing on.
Challenges remain rife, such as competition with vendors who often purchase produce from the farmers when Homes Industries, which builds their capacity and provides inputs, is not financially ready to buy the produce.
Apart from that, she cites funding challenges considering that financing institutions hardly fund small scale businesses, which affects growth prospects.
In addition, Homes Industries has not been spared from the effects of Covid-19 just like other businesses. But Victoria is confident they will sail through, as the market for good food is always there.
“We are optimistic that things will get better even though there is little money circulation because of the Covid-19 pandemic and other challenges,” she explains.
The agri entrepreneur, who identifies herself as a village girl, is married to Michael Mwafulirwa and is mother to 11-year-old Celeste.
She comes from a journalistic background and has previously worked as a communications and supply chain professional.
“I worked with the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) as a local correspondent covering Malawi and Zambia. I then founded my own communications company before moving on to Paladin Africa as communications and external relations officer,” she says.
Originally from Thumbi in Mzimba, she is now a Kachaka Village native by marriage, from Traditional Authority (T/A) Wasambo in Chilumba, Karonga.