Bupe Chipili Mulapesi never imagined she would be the high flying agripreneur she is today. In 2009 she founded a farm named it Farm23 Strawberry, which as the name suggests, produces fresh and quality strawberries. The idea to establish the farm was inspired by her childhood passion for the fruit and her mother-in-law who was also farmer always encouraged her to grow something.
When she moved to a much bigger space, she started to grow vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers. Although the harvest was too little she used to sell the vegetables and used the little income generated from the sales as seed capital to start Farm23. She began with 20 plants and today these have increased to 96 000 Alinta strawberry plants.
The farm is currently the primary supplier of good and quality strawberry fruits to the local market in Zambia. She says her first client was a small supermarket near the farm – still a loyal client today. Her plan is to partner with other small scale women farmers to supply the strawberry fruit to an international consumer base. She visited Australia where she met a woman farmer who specialises in Alinta strawberry. The woman motivated her and also offered to mentor her including providing technical advice and other valuable information related to the Alinta strawberry plants and farming in general.
“Our goal is to satisfy both the local and international markets with the best quality of strawberry fruit in terms of taste and a long shelf life. Our products are characterized by a creative and innovative high value addition concept, for example, pure organic strawberry jam production. This is possible because of our purely organic growing technical policy,” says Miss Mulapesi.
Changing local perceptions
A social worker by profession, Miss Mulapesi, says it has not been easy to run the business as she had to deal with a number of teething problems. These include lack of access to financial assistance as the existing finances have to refinance the business and to keep it running. She also had to deal the perception of the local Zambian consumers who were sceptical about the locally grown strawberries. But through extensive marketing she was able to change the perception and convinced buyers that Zambia can produce its own fresh and quality strawberries. “A lot of investment – all from my own savings – went into packaging and branding, to compete with the imported products,” says Mis Mulapesi
Constant supply of strawberry
Says Miss Mulapesi: “My biggest dream is to be able to supply and satisfy both the local and international market with a constant supply of strawberry fruit of great quality and with consistency, and at a lesser cost than is available in the market. We are also keen on enhancing the fruit processing side of the business to add value to our product. We would like to start producing a pure strawberry jam that will be processed using the fruit we grow ourselves.” Over and above exporting to the European markets, her goal is to obtain organic certification from a local institution. But she says the certification is expensive – it costs around $16,000 a year.
Training small-scale farmers
Her success has inspired a number of emerging local small-scale farmers whom she helped train and set up. “I don’t see it as competition though, rather as a business opportunity. As the market opens up, I will be able to call on them to be my suppliers in future. I know at some point, we have to work together,” says Miss Mulapesi.
She says her biggest advice to anyone starting up a business is to stay focused on your dream, your business goals and to never give up. “Determination and hard work will never disappoint a successful mindset. Challenges will surely come but take them as learning steps to achieving your successful business goals,” Miss Mulapesi says.