[Startup Interview] Takudzwa Mlambo, CEO, Forestry & Citrus Research, Zimbabwe
Forestry & Citrus Research based in Harare Zimbabwe is an agro forestry research startup working with farmers in exploiting the potential of food and fruit trees through value addition with an eye on the export market.
In the process, the startup is addressing deforestation, nutrition, employment, land utilization and research in fruit production. The startup’s co-founder and CEO Takudzwa Mlambo elaborates.
Introduce your company
Forestry & Citrus Research (FACIR) is a research based company located in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare. Since 2018 we have been focusing on poverty alleviation, nutrition and climate smart communities through robust fruit plantation setups in public institutions, fruit production through contract farming and sustainable utilization of indigenous fruits.
We are conducting afforestation programs around the country and engaging stakeholders to see the value in trees for example shade trees like croton and jacaranda. These can raise property value by 15 per cent.
Who are the founders and what are their professional backgrounds?
The founders include myself Takudzwa Mlambo, Tichafara Mugari who I schooled with at the University of Zimbabwe from 2016 to 2018 and Lawrence Kambiri who I started the guava project with by collecting guava seedlings at his home.
Tichafara and I have a background in agriculture so it was easy for us to spot this opportunity. Lawrence saw it fit to get into fruit business first by specializing in guava production since Zimbabwe has been importing guava related products. We started this venture in Harare, Zimbabwe.
How is your company financed?
The company is primarily funded through equity finance from the founders. We are looking for suitable investors to inject capital so that we can expand our operations.
What industry does Forestry & Citrus Research operate in?
We operate in the Agro- forestry sectors covering aspects of food production, environmental issues, technology and climate resilience.
Why did you start Forestry & Citrus Research? What opportunities did you see?
I started this company because trees give life. Without them we perish. You have seen the impact of deforestation on climate change. There is also a huge gap especially in Zimbabwe where the potential of this sector has not been utilized fully. There are opportunities to produce juices, jams, herbs, and various products from different trees in the mantra of production, processing and exportation as well as employment creation in these value chains. It is also a gender opportunity where both men and women can fully participate in.
What problem or problems does Forestry & Citrus Research solve?
We are solving deforestation issues, nutrition needs, employment issues, gender disparity, poverty and hunger and value addition. We are also encouraging maximum land utilization and research in fruit production in Zimbabwe.
What gives your company the competitive edge?
We are the first major company in the Guava Value Chain in Zimbabwe. Our operations follow green policies to reduce negative impacts on the environment. We fully engage our operations through website and other social platforms. We are also the first in the process of manufacturing guava tea in Zimbabwe. We are research based therefore we are uncovering new forest based products and fruit related products in the country.
Who are your customers?
Our customers include farmers, schools, hospitals, clinics, hotels, supermarkets, retail shops, wholesalers and individuals. We also collaborate with other companies linked to the export market.
What would you say are the dynamics that continue to shape the agroforestry industry?
It is a growing industry with lots of opportunities. However the growth is snail paced since majority of the people are yet to be convinced about the gains the industry offers. This calls for patience which most people don’t have. Trees take a long time to bear fruits especially if grown using traditional methods. However technologies such as Meadow Orchard Systems are reducing the production cycle to one or two years.
What does your company need in order to grow?
We need more land from the state to expand production, digital processing equipment and also business integration through international exposure and engagement.
What is your growth strategy?
Our growth strategy is based on contract farming models on fruit trees. We are also engaging more participants to utilize the vast lands available through fruit production.
Where do you want to scale your business to?
We look to export our fruit products to the Middle East which is the largest importer of these products like juice, jam, nectar and puree. We are also working to export dried fruits to the EU countries like UK and Netherlands.
What are your plans for the coming 12 months?
We want to contract farmers into guava production for a minimum 100 hectares by December 2020. In 12 months, we are also aiming at injecting more capital, establishing international market linkages and establishing our processing fruit plant in Zimbabwe.
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