Rural woman builds business  empire empowering women Nutrié Foods Founder and CEO, Nobukhosi Ndlovu

Mbulelo Mpofu

LAST month, women were deliberately celebrated for their immense contribution as economic drivers through diverse industries in Zimbabwe. 

One of the industries where women thrive is agriculture. They form the backbone of the agricultural sector, contributing significantly to food production, household income and rural development. 

They cultivate a wide range of crops, including maize, small grains, vegetables and fruits. Moreover, women also rear livestock and engage in poultry farming. Their dedication and hard work in agriculture not only ensure food security for their families but also generate income through the sale of surplus produce.

A shining example of this agricultural prowess is Nobukhosi Ndlovu. Born and bred in rural Zhombe in the Midlands and educated at Hlangabeza High School in Nkayi, she has overcome numerous challenges to become a successful entrepreneur.

Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, with parents who owned a grocery store and a trucking business, Ndlovu witnessed the difficulties faced by rural women farmers in the country. This ignited a lifelong dream to help her counterparts make money from their produce.

Ndlovu’s mother, like many others, grew peanuts but struggled due to a lack of proper storage facilities, leading to contamination and mould. Motivated by her upbringing and a desire to make a positive social impact, Ndlovu founded Nutrie Foods.

Ndlovu’s path to entrepreneurship was well-paved. She earned a Bachelor of Science (BSc) Honours Degree in Human Resources Management at the Midlands State University (MSU) while also running the campus tuck-shop. In addition, she bought clothes and homeware from South Africa, Botswana, Turkey and China, reselling them in Zimbabwe. 

“We are a company dedicated to manufacturing and packaging healthy food products while also providing a fair-trade market for female farmers. We produce a range of products, including peanut butter, mixed fruit jam, salted corn, roasted corn, chilli corn, marmalade, honey, sugar beans, soy chunks and rice imported from Kilombero, Malawi. 

“I settled on the name, ‘Nutrie’ paying homage to the primary source of nutrients that I wanted to process and package, peanut butter. All of these raw materials I got from farmers in Zhombe,” she said.

Nobukhosi Ndlovu (in white cap) with some of the rural farmers she works with

Ndlovu’s commitment to producing high-quality food goes hand in hand with her mission to promote female economic empowerment, using several initiatives to support them.

“We support rural women who are into farming through purchasing produce from them as they rely on farming as their primary source of income. Additionally, these farmers receive training in proper farming techniques and agricultural practices. We also provide them with seeds and fertilisers to enhance production and ensure a steady and fair market for their produce. Through these efforts, Nutrie Foods not only contributes to employment and job creation but also empowers women to become self-sufficient,” she said.

Despite facing challenges like limited access to funding as a young entrepreneur and the difficulty of penetrating the corporate market, Ndlovu persevered.

“Initially, it was tough but with support from Virl Micro-finance, I secured start-up funding for the machinery that we needed, and Nutrie Foods began operations in 2013 in a small rented warehouse. To ensure the business had a head start, I had to take on multiple roles within the business, driven by the belief that one day, my hard work would pay off.

Over time, Nutrie Foods gained recognition, and major retailers started selling our products. Seeing the products of female farmers from my homeland on the shelves of prominent African retail stores and wholesalers brought me enormous satisfaction and motivated me to continue expanding,” said Ndlovu.

Despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Nutrie Foods continued to operate as an essential service.

“Despite restrictions on working hours and reduced production capacity, we had to demonstrate resilience and adaptability. Through partnerships with organisations like Herbalife Nutrition’s Nutrition for Zero Hunger initiative and the US African Development Foundation (USADF) Food and Nutrition Stars Programme, we secured grants that allowed Nutrie Foods to purchase a van.

Nutrié Foods soy chunks

This enabled safe transportation for employees, reducing Covid-19 exposure risks while cutting transport costs and increasing productivity. This helped us a lot since we prioritise the safety and well-being of our employees, recognising that motivated employees yield better results.

“On the flip side, the pandemic also brought about positive changes in consumer behaviour, with increased health consciousness leading to a rise in honey sales and the use of Nutrie peanut butter as a cooking alternative to oil. Nutrie Foods is responding to this trend by exploring the addition of more nutritious grains, such as finger millet, to its product range,” added Ndlovu.

Ndlovu’s impact extends beyond rural women in Zhombe; those in Gokwe and Mudzi also bear witness to her influence as a farming contractor for over 200 farmers. Her vision is to impact a thousand farmers in the future. 

Looking ahead, Ndlovu remains optimistic and driven by her unwavering belief in the power of hard work. Her mantra, “Limitation is only a belief, but if practiced daily, it can become a reality,” serves as a constant reminder of the limitless possibilities that lie ahead.

“With the El Nino phenomenon making it hard to harvest anything, I will try working with women in Matabeleland for drought-resistant small grains to enhance chances of yields,” she said. 

Ndlovu’s dedication to empowering rural women and her commitment to producing quality, healthy food continues to inspire and make a difference in her community and beyond. Beyond her business ventures, Ndlovu serves as an HR consultant for different firms. 

As an ardent Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) member, she enjoys playing, reading books, going to the gym and playing golf on her “Never miss a Sunday” days. Additionally, she spends time with her high-roller friends, the “Rich Cousins.” Ndlovu’s vision extends further: she aims to expand her impact by venturing into stock feed manufacturing and establishing a milling plant to combat hunger in the region.— @MbuleloMpofu



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