Oliver Kazunga, senior reporter
AN enterprising rural farmer in Bubi district, Matabeleland North, lives largely from her cooking oil business which produces 200 liters a day.
The venture not only benefits Mrs. Florence Mthimkhulu, who runs the project on her farm with the help of her husband, Mr. Paul Mthimkhulu in Ntobi, Ward 5, but also the villagers in the neighborhood.
This summer harvest season, she entered into a contract cultivation agreement for sunflowers with 30 villagers in the area.
In an interview, Ms Mthimkhulu said that in parts of the large dry region of Matabeleland North, particularly Bubi district, some farmers are now taking sunflower cultivation seriously, providing her farm with raw materials.
“I started this cooking oil expression project after last year’s harvest.
Before I got into the cooking oil business, I planted sunflowers and sold them to a pet food company in Bulawayo.
“During the 2020/21 summer growing season, I harvested 191 buckets and MELANA (Matabeleland Enhanced Livelihoods, Agriculture and Nutrition Adaptation), a local non-governmental organization that provides sunflower seeds to villagers in the district, made a proposal and asked me if I was interested in venturing into cooking oil production as part of empowerment,” Ms Mthimkhulu said.
The proposal came after she produced the highest yield of sunflower in the district.
In collaboration with the Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund (ZRBF), MELANA was implementing a number of projects in the Matabeleland region, with the aim of improving resilience to the adverse effects of climate change and people’s livelihoods.
Some of their projects include establishing a seed bank in Majiji village in Bubi district to help the community preserve high-value traditional varieties such as finger millet, sorghum, millet and quinoa.
A seed bank is a special building with flood, bomb and radiation proof vaults used to preserve genetic diversity.
After agreeing to pursue the cooking oil project proposal, Ms Mthimkhulu said MELANA helped her acquire a machine that expresses cooking oil from Harare in April last year.
“MELANA paid 70% of the total $3,500 price for the machine and I paid 30%, or $850.
I then started extracting the oil in July last year using raw materials from farmers in my neighborhood and other nearby neighborhoods.
“Depending on the amount of sunflower seeds we receive from farmers per day, we are able to process one ton of sunflower.
A ton of sunflower is equivalent to a 20 liter bucket per 100 and each bucket produces 2 liters of cooking oil,” she said.
Ms Mthimkhulu is grateful to MELANA for empowering her, saying she was also extending the empowerment project to other villagers in the district by encouraging them to grow sunflowers and start their own cooking oil processing businesses .
“Since the business is still growing, we are currently dealing with cooking oil which we only sell in this neighborhood and other nearby neighborhoods in the district.
Those who come with their seed for processing pay 1 US$ for 2l if they leave the sunflower cake and 1.50 US$ if they take it.
“We have a lot of support which means we have to be well supplied at all times.
As the business grows, we hope to expand our market to the whole province, supplying various institutions such as schools,” said Ms Mthimkhulu, who also runs a poultry project.
She said the cooking oil project had transformed her life as they could now afford to send their six children and five of their extended family to school.
“Thanks to the cooking oil project, my six children and five others from our extended family are all in secondary school in Bulawayo.
I also managed to build a three-room house here from this project,” Ms Mthimkhulu said.
His project fits well with the vision of the Second Republic to end the rural exodus, engendered by a long-standing mentality that all that is good comes from urban areas.
“I encourage people to realize that agriculture can transform their livelihoods through food security and financial empowerment.
As a rural farmer, I urge villagers to always keep in mind that their lives are rooted in tilling the land or producing livestock.
She recently started a poultry project, raising sasso chickens and sold the first batch of 200 to an organization in Tsholotsho.
Prior to the cooking oil project, Mrs. Mthimkhulu grew maize and produced between 15 and 18 tons each season.
The government is committed to accelerating rural modernization and industrialization through agriculture to create jobs, improve livelihoods and transform the lives of all formerly marginalized rural communities.
The development direction is set out in the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) which has seen the establishment of life-changing industries in parts of the country.
Agriculture, which remains the mainstay of the country’s economy, grew by 7.8% last year; the highest in the region. – @KazungaOliver