Linking farmers to the market
EU-FAO backed government investment fund helps Swaziland’s agriculture become commercial
An innovative investment fund has linked thousands of small farmers to new markets, showcasing how a government-led effort backed by the EU and FAO is moving agriculture in Swaziland from subsistence to commercial farming.
Today, they are making Swazi Fire, says Lizzy Dlamini, cooking supervisor in Eswatini Kitchen, a small food processing factory on the outskirts of Manzini, the business capital of Swaziland.
Swazi Fire is a very hot sauce, she explains, because of the red cayenne pepper used in its production. Among all the sauces, atchars, chutneys, marmalades and jams made at Eswatini Kitchen, Lizzy thinks that Swazi Fire is what the people in Swaziland like the most.
Clad in a white topcoat, her hair held together in a hairnet, she crosses the factory’s central hall to inspect the sauce, boiling in fifteen enormous tin pans on two rows of stoves.
“This job makes me a good mama,” Lizzy says. “With my salary, I feed my family, I pay the school fees and buy clothes.”
Most of Eswatini Kitchen’s twenty-four staff are single moms or bread winners, such as Lizzy herself, whose husband has been out of work since 1999. This reflects the charitable origins of the business, set up over twenty years ago to help sell produce of community gardens and offer employment opportunities at the same time.
Now the factory is at a crossroads: Eswatini Kitchen has embraced a more business-minded approach to ramp up its annual turnover of around 4-4.5 million Emalagneni ($400,000-450000).
In the process, it has received a 337 000 Emalangeni grant ($ 34,000) from a €1 million fund aimed at linking up small holder farmers in Swaziland to new markets, known as the Marketing Investment Fund (MIF).
“Swaziland’s future is in agriculture,” says Sonia Paiva, a businesswoman who is leading Eswatini Kitchen’s transformation. “If you look at it as a business, there is a lot of room for growth.”
The MIF grant allowed Eswatini kitchen to purchase a food processor and two food blenders “It helps to increase our production and lower cost. In other words, to be more competitive,” says Sonia Paiva.
Eswatini Kitchen is one of twenty-five agri-businesses receiving grants under the MIF, itself part of a wide-scale government-led effort to create a vibrant commercial agricultural sector in Swaziland, known as the Swaziland Agricultural Development Programme (SADP).
Other grantees include Swazi Secrets, where Swaziland’s endemic marula (Sclerocarya birrea) seeds are transformed into high-end beauty products, before being sold in Swaziland, neighboring South Africa, and across the globe through fair trade networks - just like Eswatini Kitchen’s sauces and jam.
Grants have been awarded on condition that the agri-businesses use the produce of small holder farmers, says Wilson Sikhondze, SADP’s national coordinator, adding that an estimated 5 000 of them will benefit. “Money is key for a small holder to move from subsistence to commercial farming,” he says.
The essential ingredient for today’s Swazi Fire sauce, two kilograms of red cayenne pepper for a production of 750 jars, has come from the fields of Sipho Matisa in the village of Zombodze, not far from Manzini.
Sipho (62 years old) is one of thirty farmers providing Eswatini Kitchen with pepper. He is a retired government worker, and bread-winner for an extended family of thirteen people, including the four children of his deceased sister, and two other orphans.
It has been a year since Eswatini Kitchen started buying his cayenne. He likes their standard price of 10 Emalangeni per kg ($1), based on the fair trade principles they adhere to. Showing the quarter of a hectare where he grows cayenne, Sipho says that with 1,300 plants there is enough room to increase his weekly supply of 10-15 kg.
Sipho is very pleased to know that his pepper, converted in Swazi Fire, is sold all over the world. “This gives me the responsibility to produce the best possible quality.”