Making a viable business and contributing to the global fight against malnutrition can occur simultaneously and sustainably. Just ask Tinashe Mbiriri.
“As a young man coming from a poor background, it was always a dream growing up to own a social enterprise that would solve a problem in my community,” he said.
Tinashe was pursuing a Master’s in Agricultural Economics at the University of Zimbabwe when he joined the HarvestPlus team—and found his quest.
HarvestPlus uses conventional plant breeding processes to enhance the micronutrient content of key staple crops. The team in Harare is small but mighty—they support the release and development of vitamin A maize and iron beans, as well as the marketing and sale of biofortified food products.
The time with HarvestPlus gave Tinashe the inspiration and insight he needed. Upon graduation, he partnered with a classmate, Takudzwa Gahadza, whose father had an idle milling plant and began planning. In 2017, the pair launched Sky Brands—a youth-owned processor of biofortified crops.
“As a company whose quest is to contribute significantly to the fight against hidden hunger and malnutrition, we have embraced the technology [of biofortification] and committed ourselves to the nutrition revolution,” Tinashe said.
Located southwest of Harare in the densely populated town of Chitungwiza, Sky Brands supplies customers shopping or dining at local stores and restaurants. Now, consumers can purchase vitamin A orange maize porridge, maize meal, iron beans, and orange maize samp (pounded, dried corn) directly from the company’s website. Since August 2018, Sky Brands has sold 16.5 tons of biofortified vitamin A orange maize.
Cognizant of the damaging ripple effect that stunted cognitive and physical development can have on families and communities, the company aims to help the next generation avoid hidden hunger.
“We have an ongoing program where every dollar donated will be used to supply orange porridge and mealie meal to schools in the rural areas where children go for a day without a packed lunch,” Tinashe said.
HarvestPlus supports Sky Brands with marketing, training, and aggregation. “Most farmers in those areas have limited access to markets in general, and the availability of Sky Brands as an off-taker has been a blessing for them and has helped in promoting the production of vitamin A orange maize in those areas for both home consumption and sale,” said Sakile Kudita, HarvestPlus-Zimbabwe’s demand creation officer.
Currently 100 farmers have off-take agreements to produce 400 tons of biofortified grain for Sky Brands. “The relationship with Sky Brands has been mutually beneficial; they are flexible enough to travel even to the deep of rural Zimbabwe to collect vitamin A orange maize grain for their milling operations,” Sakile added.
The company is young, but it’s bold vision and the collaboration with HarvestPlus means the sky’s the limit. “It’s a story of very young, enterprising individuals who believe in biofortification and are trying to make a living out of it while at the same time helping their community to reap the benefits that biofortified crops bring,” said Donald Mavindidze, Africa regional director at HarvestPlus.