A fortifying approach: giving biofortified foods a boost in Tanzania

Six months on from the 2020 SUN Pitch Competition, winner Jolenta Joseph continues to use the GAIN Innovation prize of US$10,000 to grow her business. Despite the challenges brought about in 2020, the financial support and mentorship provided as part of her award has enabled Jolenta to develop her enterprise, Sanavita, which uses nutrient-rich crops to produce healthy products.

“Since the Sun Pitch Competition in July 2020, we have bought new equipment, increased our volumes and expanded our product range and customer base as a result of the investment we received,” enthuses Jolenta. These developments have enabled Sanavita to access new markets and more customers in Morogoro town, in eastern Tanzania, where the company is based. “We have also realized that there are so many other products that we can produce with biofortified crops to provide to different categories of consumers,” Jolenta adds.

New equipment, new prospects

Photo courtesy of Sanavita

An electric chopping machine, used to cut orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (OFSPs) into small pieces before being dried and milled into nutritious flour is among the new equipment purchased with Jolenta’s winnings from the pitch competition. Previously, a diesel-powered machine requiring three operators was used to produce 200 kg per hour. Needing only two operators, the new electric machine can chop 700 kg of OFSP per hour.

A new bag-sealing machine has also enabled the company to package its pro-Vitamin A maize flour in different volumes. “Initially, we could only produce 1 kg packets due to the cost. With our own sealing machine we can package any quantity for a wider range of customers including wholesalers, local markets and shops who buy large quantities and resell in smaller quantities to local customers,” Jolenta states. As a result, Sanavita’s monthly flour sales have more than doubled from 100 kg in early 2020, and sales are still growing.

The purchase of three metal grain tanks provides critical storage capacity (1.5 tonnes in total) and has increased storage time. Weevils, grain borers and moths, which were previously an issue when the grain was stored in 90 kg bags, are no longer a problem.

Cultivating farmer networks and growing community awareness

Photo courtesy of Sanavita

With new equipment enabling faster processing, Jolenta needs more OFSP supply from farmers. Since 2018, she has doubled the number of farmers to 2,000. Of these, more than 1,500 supply over 5 tonnes directly to her each week. To ensure supply and quality, Jolenta provides training in good farming and management practices.

In addition, Jolenta has used her prize money to establish a 0.4 ha OFSP multiplication site, which doubles as a training centre. Farmers are given cut high quality, disease-free vines certified by the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute-Kibaha. “As we seek to improve nutrition at the household level, we want these farmers to consume OFSP in their own homes and only sell us the surplus. I am very glad to see those attending the trainings are seeing the value of this approach,” she explains.

To help further enlighten the community on the role of biofortified crops in improving nutrition in Morogoro Municipality, in December 2020 Sanavita hosted the first in a series of awareness campaigns. The event targeted influential people the company hopes will become agents of change, and attracted 75 participants, including education and health officials, religious leaders, community-based organizations and the media. A Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) representativealso participated to provide insights into sustainable nutrition solutions and the value of biofortified products among businesses.

Besides these community events, Jolenta has also worked with 10 primary and secondary schools, which invited Sanavita to introduce cooking demonstration lessons while training students on the benefits of biofortified foods. Sanavita is also collaborating with government regional health coordinators to introduce cooking demonstrations in clinics targeting pregnant and lactating mothers.

Succeeding despite the challenges

Photo courtesy of Sanavita

Jolenta attributes the success of the awareness campaign and the growing partner network to the support she has received from Cherrie Atilano, the CEO of AGREA, who provided the mentorship award for the Sun Pitch Competition. “Cherrie has been remarkable in teaching us how to scale the business and identify new opportunities,” emphasises Jolenta. To capitalize on the lessons learnt as a result of this support, Jolenta is looking to advise other food business entrepreneurs. She emphasizes that their core mission should be to change lives even as they build their enterprises. “You cannot compromise on quality. If we are to give our products a high rating in the market, then we have to invest heavily in ensuring that the quality of our products is top notch,” she advises.

Haika Malleko, SBN Tanzania’s coordinator, adds, “We are really delighted for what Sanavita has accomplished by setting examples to nutritious food businesses, particularly to other female entrepreneurs. She has used technical and financial support received from GAIN and SBN to improve her business by producing high quality products, as well as increasing the market size.  We are proud to see women-led businesses, such as Sanavita, grow and become examples to others in our community.”

With this in mind, a key achievement for Sanavita has been the inclusion of identification barcodes on its products, which have allowed the startup access to big supermarkets. The company is also in the process of acquiring Tanzania Bureau of Standards marks of quality that will also enable her products to be sold in large retail stories and provide access to export markets.

Photo courtesy of Sanavita

Nevertheless, despite its growing success, Sanavita has had to contend with a variety of challenges, such as a low supply of raw materials for her expanding range of products which include OFSP biscuits as well as composite flour, which is a mixture of OFSP with pumpkin seed powder and rice. Specifically, there are often issues sourcing OFSP due to its perishability and high demand during the dry season.

When COVID-19 first struck Tanzania, movement and travel restrictions meant Sanavita lost wholesale buyers like market traders, who experienced a significant drop in customers. Schools, which were some of Jolenta’s largest customers were also closed during the first few months of the pandemic. To help insulate her business from the adverse effects of COVID-19, Jolenta was provided with a grant of TZS14 million (US$6,000) by GAIN’s Keep Food Markets Working programme, allowing her to cover operation costs and continue paying salaries. This grant has also enabled her to market her products in various regions in Tanzania. As a result, the company has reported sales figures far greater than would otherwise have been expected in these challenging times.

Undaunted by the setbacks the enterprise has faced, as the appetite for biofortified foods grows in rural and urban areas, Sanavita is now looking to scale operations to Arusha, Tanga and Kilimanjaro towns. Despite the towns being far from Morogoro, where the business is based, word of mouth and recent publicity in the local media is stimulating demand for more of Sanavita’s nutritious products.

Bob Koigi

Bob is editor at and Africa Business Communities, and has won multiple awards for his coverage of agriculture, business, the environment and rural development, including Journalist of the Year by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Bob produced this article in collaboration with WRENmedia in the UK.