This is Dorothy Eriksson, the woman behind Zambia’s dried fruit empire
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Dorothy Eriksson from Zambia is the brains behind Chankwakwa’s agro-processing factory, a successful family run farm in Kabwe where they make jams, sauces, dried fruit and soya products that can be found throughout Zambia.
Eriksson had a number of entrepreneurial ventures before starting Chankwakwa. She opened a restaurant, called Dorothy’s Country Kitchen, which sold Zambian food in Kabwe Town. Then she launched a bakery, called Upper Crust Bakery, which is still in operation in Kabwe Town.
In the early 1970s, Eriksson and her husband visited a fresh produce market.
She noticed the fruit that the vendor was selling was going bad and that’s when she saw an opportunity to process the fruit into a different value.
She added that the supply far outstripped demand and that there was an opportunity to give the rotten mangoes a new lease of life.
“We work with the local community in Central- and Luapula provinces.
“I learned to be an entrepreneur from a young age. My parents ran a retail outlet and I learned to stand behind the counter at the age of five, when I could barely see above the counter, and served the customers in our community,” said Ericksson.
According to a report by Agrilinks, Ericksson was born into a family of 13, and developed business skills from a young age at her father’s shop outside of Lusaka, Zambia.
As a young adult, she worked for Zambia Airways and Alitalia Airlines as a hostess.
“In those days, customers had to pay for their drinks or food. That was my first interaction with marketing products,” she said.
At 18, Dorothy met her husband and just three years after getting married in 1970, the pair bought 1 227 acres of land to start a farm specialising in soya beans, maize and tomatoes.
“My first 100 orange trees I watered with a watering can. Those are the same orchards we are making marmalade from today,” she said, writes Agrilinks.
Today, the company exports dried mango to Europe and supplies jams, sauces, dried fruits, honey and soya products to various supermarket chains throughout Zambia and Europe.
Chankwakwa works with small scale farmers in Central and Luapula provinces.
The farmers are organised in cooperatives and follow both organic and fair-trade practices.
According to the company, at the process plant they work predominantly with women who have become experts in their field despite many of them being illiterate.
Eriksson says that through their work these women are able to provide for their families, especially since work opportunities are very scarce.
She says that their products are all made from locally grown fruits, making it a truly Zambian product.
“By doing so we support the Zambian farmer as well as the community by creating jobs in rural areas.”
According to How we made it in Africa, in the spring of 2011, the company began shipping sun-dried mangoes to Hansen’s Ice Cream in Denmark.
According to Eriksson she attributes the success of the company to the strong relationships built over time with the contract farmers.
She says that Chankwakwa goes the extra mile and that’s what makes them different from any other small business.
According to reports, during harvest, it employs casual labour to get the mangoes off the trees as fast as possible and supplies the transport for the mangoes to the processing facility.
“In the beginning, when we went out there, they didn’t trust us. The relationship and commitment from our side have been most important and it has paid off,” she says.
Eriksson says she has no thoughts of slowing down. She has her sights set on extending the farmer base that she is sourcing from to over 1 000 farmers because she believes that there is more potential.
“We have not even touched the other provinces. There is Western, Eastern and Northern. I have people calling me from Zambezi and I am thinking that I can go empower them with the skills so they can run their own businesses down there,” says Eriksson.
African News Agency (ANA)