Creating a community of change makers

Matilda Mlotha 24, from Mzuzu is the founder and Managing Director of Zomera Fruit Propagation Farm, a business involved in production of tree seedlings of various types of fruits.

She currently owns three green houses and operates at the backyard of her parent's residence in Mzuzu city's township of Luwinga.

The birth of her business stems from her passion for environmental conservation. For years, Mlotha was getting concerned with the alarming rate at which trees were disappearing in the country's forests.

The sight of vast swatches of lost forest cover especially in the north, her region of origin, which was once famous for having huge chunks of land covered with trees, was so irritating to Mlotha.

After she graduated in Agribusiness Management at Bunda College in 2019, the now 24-year-old Mlotha had some short internship stint with some organizations. Because of limited job opportunities, she then ventured into a business of selling kitchenware after finishing her internships.

While she was able to earn a living through the business, Mlotha was not contented. Each time she saw pieces of bare lands, the old irritation crept in. She wanted to do something for her earnings as well as for the environment.

"With my business of selling kitchenware, I could not feel that much value in the trade, the kind of value offered to the community. So I thought of starting a business that will not only benefit me financially but also the community and the country at large and contribute towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” Mlotha said.

With 45 guava seedlings sourced from the backyard of her parent's house that grew underneath the matured guava trees, a new business, Zomera Fruit Propagation Farm was born in May last year.

The business focuses on production of various improved fruit seedlings through several processes of propagation like grafting and budding.

"I came up with this idea to make money for myself as well as contribute to the country's land restoration efforts. Fruit trees are a sustainable way of restoring bare lands because they are a source of food and income, people avoid cutting them down,” Mlotha said.

From the time, Mlotha established her business; she set her eyes to becoming a standout entrepreneur. However, she was lacking some necessary entrepreneurship skills for proper direction and financial opportunities to grow her enterprise.

While pondering on how to grow her business, Mlotha came across an opportunity to join the Business Incubation Program shortened Bizcubation by Mzuzu Entrepreneur Hub.

The Bizcubation Program, a component of a Digital Malawi Project funded by World Bank aims at building a community of youth led quality startup businesses that provide innovative solutions for socio-economic problems within Malawi.

"As a budding entrepreneur I needed some capacity building and when Mzuzu Entrepreneur Hub advertised this opportunity, which targeted women and youths, I applied. I was lucky and I got selected in the first cohort, which run from September last year,” Mlotha said.

Through Bizcubation, Mlotha got equipped with different business knowledge and skills that she lacked before. Among the skills gained, include business ideation, strategic planning, leadership, financial management, marketing and communication.

Additionally, joining the program accorded Mlotha an opportunity to participate in a pitching competition in which best pitches received seed capital. Mlotha's pitch emerged among the best, and won her MK600, 000, which she injected into her business.

"Since I finished the program, I can see that my business is now in the right direction. I am now running my business professionally because of the skills that I have,” Mlotha said.

She added; "The funds that I won have helped me to grow. I managed to construct two more green houses that are enabling me to produce quality seedlings. Right now, I have 8, 200 seedlings, and I am able to make MK300, 000 or more per month when business is at peak.”

One year and some months into the business, Mlotha has certainly found a niche in her fruit propagation business. Not only has she established herself in the business but she has also availed job opportunities to youths and women. She currently offers part-time work to two young women and she has seven seasonal workers.

Nevertheless, Mlotha is still dreaming big.

"I would like to secure my own piece of land, so I can construct more green houses that will enable me to produce more seedlings, and I would like to use part of the land to establish a demonstration orchard,” she said.

"For the community, I would like to train youths and women in seedlings production so we can have more players to meet the demand as at the moment the supply is low. This I believe can help in empowering youths and women economically at a time job opportunities are so limited,” Mlotha added.