THE Malawi Innovation Challenge Fund (MICF) is a $14 million competitive, transparent mechanism that provides grants for innovative projects in Malawi’s agriculture, manufacturing and logistics sectors. It has been established to provide co-financing to the private sector for innovative inclusive business initiatives in the agricultural, manufacturing and logistics sectors. Development partners that are investing in the Challenge fund include the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UKaid, IFAD and KfW.
The Times Newspaper Reporter, WILLIAM KUMWEMBE had a change to engage Ruth Kalima who is the founder for Roseberry Farms, one of the beneficiaries of the Challenge Fund. Below is the excerpt;
Give me a brief background of the Roseberry Farms?
Roseberry Farms started about three years ago out of passion; the passion was to lift people out of poverty. There are a lot of hard working people in Malawi that are not given a break and Roseberry Farms’ main goal is to lift people out of poverty and make their lives sustainable and successful and get them to live above the poverty line. So, Roseberry Farms came into being to lift the country’s economic capacity and to lift the economic capacity of Malawians so that Malawi should not be importing a lot of things. If we stop importing, the money can be redirected to hospitals, schools and infrastructure. If we are getting things locally, we are able to conserve foreign exchange and it can be put to good use.
Did it just come into being?
I used to work as an executive in Johannesburg [South Africa]; I have also worked in the US [United States]. So, my expertise is operations. I was living in Johannesburg working and had no intention of coming back to Malawi. We were sitting with friends and bemoaning the state of [developments in] Africa, and one of them made a comment to say, but we are the people who are making Africa to be what it is. And that made me think. And the main thing that made me start the horticulture farm is that a lot of market stores had packages of fresh food from other countries, never from Malawi. That got me thinking. So my quesion was; why is Malawi not exporting vegetables? So, I got angry and I directed my anger into Roseberry Farms. And I diced to start a horticulture farm, and my end game is I want to walk into big shops of South Africa and see “flown this morning from Blantyre”. Then I would be happy.
Three years down the line, how close are you to reaching that goal?
Very very close. We have been working with UKAid, DFID (and UNDP), through the Malawi Innovation Challenge Fund (MICF), and with bridging finance from FDH Bank. We have put up infrastructure; we have done ground work of not only Roseberry Farms; but farmers in Bvumbwe as well. Roseberry Farms is the anchor farm; we have got 40 farmers in Bvumbwe that are working with us. So, they are our out growers. The challenge that a lot of horticulture farmers face is they grow to market, that is a challenge we must grow for the market. Our products are in all Shoprite stores countrywide, all the PTCs and Spar outlets in Blantyre and, hopefully, we are going to move to Spar Lilongwe and Food Lovers. So, when we grow, we have projections. The trick is to have consistency and quality that is very important. The Supermarkets are importing because they are not getting quality [products] and [are disappointed on]consistency.
On funding, you mentioned MICF and FDH Bank. How does it work?
We started the farm with our own money; it’s a family business. The first investment was done by the family to put up an irrigation system and green houses. When we involved the women in Bvumbwe, that is when MICF came up with the project. It is a competitive process. It is a matching grant, it is not free money. They match you penny for penny. What makes FDH Bank very deferent from any other bank is that they work with you. From inception, they had meetings with MICF, the farmers to understand the project before it commences. I knocked on (the doors of) several banks; they said the risk is too high. Only FDH Bank understood, they grow with me at every milestone. FDH has mastered the art of managing donor funds. Instead of dornor money going directly to the recipient, the money is kept by the bank and managed by the fund’s managers at the bank. So there is no room for someone to go and buy a Prado because they pay the suppliers directly. With FDH Bank, they monitor the project, in relation to the money you withdraw, you have to write a motivation and if the motivation is not convincing, you do not withdraw. They insect every penny and that is the FDH deference. And no other bank in Malawi is doing that.
How would rate your market share?
We are very far; we are not meeting the demand yet. Shoprite and Spar are still importing vegetables, but we are getting there slowly. We are working on one product at a time.
Finally, how does the future look like?
I think we are on the right track. We have completed all the milestones and we are remaining with one. And the last milestone is the export strategy which, we feel, would complete by December. In a year, we should see Malawi exporting horticulture products.