By Farai Shawn Matiashe
Fresh Foods Basket Zimbabwe co-founder Farai Chisvo makes daily runs supplying fresh produce to his growing list of clientele. Today is no different.
Before winding up the last of his scheduled deliveries and returning to the warehouse in Glen Lorne, the 34-year-old Chisvo sets course for Waterfalls, a medium-density suburb in Harare.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government imposed a national lockdown to curb the spread of the global coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 after the country recorded its first Covid-19 death.
Since then, the lockdown has been relaxed and tightened depending on the cases of Covid-19 in the country.
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 even though the vaccine programme is being rolled out.
As of Friday, a total of 178 237 people had been inoculated against Covid-19 using vaccines from China, India and Russia.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s economy has been reeling from three-digit hyperinflation and the recent ravages of drought that have left the country teetering on the brink of food insecurity.
At the end of 2020, the UN World Food Programme estimated that the number of food-insecure Zimbabweans was 8.6 million people — a staggering 60% of the population.
The southern African country, which was once the breadbasket of the continent, will import an estimated 1.1 million tonnes of grain in the 2020/2021 marketing year to meet demand, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.
The situation has been worsened by Covid-19 which has ravaged the economy and forced the government to lock up its people with no social security.
Amid all this, Chisvo and co-founders Brian Matasva (25), Killian Masunda (25) and Kumbirai Makota (25) saw an opportunity, and they quickly moved in to fill the void.
Chisvo told The Standard the situation in the country presented a unique opportunity.
“The measures put in place to contain the spread of Covid-19 have disrupted the supply of agro-food products to markets and consumers, both within and across borders,” he said.
“However, as Fresh Foods Basket Zimbabwe, we have linked with most local farmers and created an online fresh agro produce hub where farmers with products ready for harvest and for the market can give notice and in turn, we push those products to our clients so that there is constant supply of what is in the market, thus keeping farmers in business.”
He said they elevated demand by promoting the concept of healthy eating and educating the masses on how healthy food helps to boost the immune system.
This unique set of challenges enabled Chisvo and the co-founders to boost their start-up that they established in 2019 to ensure convenience to customers, he said.
The start-up makes home deliveries daily during weekdays in Harare and surrounding areas, including Norton, Chitungwiza and Marondera
Fresh Foods Basket Zimbabwe supplies fresh farm produce to more than 900 customers on a weekly basis.
They have their own farm in Marondera, some 70km from Harare, where they get fresh produce and they also work with more than 30 small-scale farmers in Harare and nearby areas.
The agripreneurs, who are also tech-savvy, have provided a mobile money payment platform for their customers.
“We accept Ecocash, Zipit and transfers through international transfer platforms such as World Remit, Mukuru and Western Union which are convenient to our clients,” Chisvo said.
In addition, Foods Basket Zimbabwe also markets its products using social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, the most popular messaging app in Africa, according to a 2018 report by We Are Social and Hootsuite.
On the backdrop of the pandemic, the government announced a $18 billion (us$60 million) stimulus package meant to revive the economy.
In the first two weeks of the lockdown in 2019, an estimated $10 million worth of farm-fresh produce was lost, according to the Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU), which represents farmers’ interests.
Paul Zakariya, an executive director at ZFU, told The Standard, Covid-19 disruptions have helped to bring in innovations on marketing and related logistics.
“Digital marketing platforms have emerged and these are providing real-time information about what fresh produce is available, where and at what price. This is informing decisions much quicker,” Zakariya said.
“Our only hope at the moment is that we can continue to build on these new and innovative ways of handling fresh farm produce and not go back to the old ways.”
Some tech businesses that saw Covid-19 as an opportunity to thrive have struggled to sail through the pandemic.
Quickfresh, a fresh farm produce delivery startup that was established in March 2020 on the backdrop of the pandemic, has since shut down.
Quickfresh co-founder Rumbidzai Mbambo cited demand for home deliveries booming only when the lockdown is tightened by the government.
“The market is not quite ready for it yet,” Mbambo said.
“The lockdown created demand, but now that movement restrictions have been relaxed they have more options as compared to when they were locked up but needed supplies.”
Another startup, Farm Fresh founded by Desire Jongwe, which made home deliveries of vegetables on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the Covid-19 era, in 2020, has also shut down.
The company, which was based in Mutare, the fourth-largest city in Zimbabwe, had customers who included people that were concerned about the coronavirus pandemic and did not want to visit the market.
In Harare, Fresh in a Box, started by Kuda Musasiwa in 2018, last year partnered with well over 2 000 farmers across the country and is still thriving.
Fresh in A Box uses artificial intelligence to interact with customers on various social media platforms, and it takes an hour for clients to receive their orders, he said.
“At each lockdown, we maximise on orders,”Musasiwa told The Standard.
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.
- *This work was supported by the National Geographic Society’s Covid-19 Emergency Fund for Journalists