Meet Jolenta Joseph. She is an entrepreneur and founder of Sanavita, an agribusiness company based in Tanzania. She got the idea to start her business while pursuing a BSc in human nutrition at Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania.
She was exploring the idea of how to help reduce malnutrition among vulnerable communities in her country. However, she didn’t know how to go about it until she was recruited to be part of a nutrition awareness program.
“The nutrition awareness program I was involved in helped me understand how agriculture could help people come out of malnutrition. I talked to farmers and began to understand the challenges they were facing in producing and marketing healthy crops,” she told Howwemadeitinafrica.
Following her interactions with the farmers, she got to realize that the rural areas needed awareness of exactly what to produce. On the other hand, those in the urban centers wanted products that were tasty and rich in nutrients that they couldn’t grow in towns.
This market gap set her in motion to start Sanavita in 2019. The agribusiness company processes biofortified crops to create various edible products. She started with orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, which is a special type of biofortified sweet potato that contains high levels of beta-carotene, according to Howwemadeitinafrica.
She did not have capital when she started her business so she would take sweet potatoes on credit from farmers in rural areas and sell them in towns. Over time, she added more products in response to demand from consumers. Joseph also saw the demand for her products as an opportunity to add more value to her product.
“Some of the consumers wanted processed products that could stay for long. I, therefore, devised a way to dry the sweet potato using solar energy while retaining their nutrients and then milling them to produce a nutritious composite flour which I sold to food processors,” she said.
Joseph added other nutrient-rich products including designing a biscuit by mixing sweet potato puree with iron beans and cashew nuts.
“When the business started, we worked with 10 smallholder farmers who supplied us with between 200kg to 500kg of sweet potato every month. The number has since grown a hundredfold and we now receive up to four tonnes of sweet potato every month from 1,000 farmers,” she said.
Her target groups include pregnant women, lactating mothers and children while her main markets are in Morogoro, Dar es Salaam and the capital city of Dodoma. Her products are also sold through local channels like supermarkets, shops and local markets.
Like many Black entrepreneurs, Joseph also faces challenges in raising money to expand her operations. What she does is invest the profit she makes into the business. Nonetheless, support from different stakeholders and organisations like the Swiss-based charity Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has also helped.
Her plan now is to build her own certified factory and boost production capacity. The young food entrepreneur was recently presented with a cash prize of US$10,000 and a mentorship award dubbed the Food Technology Innovation Prize issued by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN).
“This is really good news to us…We are aiming to end ‘hidden’ hunger in Tanzania, and this means growth for us,” Joseph said at the time. According to the World Health Organisation, hidden hunger occurs when the quality of food people eat does not meet their nutrient requirements. It comes with a lack of vitamins and minerals.
Even though Tanzania made progress in fighting malnutrition some 10 years ago, the country is still grappling with chronic malnutrition (stunting), which affects 34% of children below the age of five.