CGIAR Food Systems Accelerator Entrepreneur Spotlight: Forest Africa Zambia Ltd: Redefining Fruit Processing for a Greener Future

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Images: The Forest Africa Zambia team and products. Photo credit: Forest Africa Zambia Ltd.

What if indigenous wild fruit processing could catalyse sustainable economic development, environmental conservation, and healthier food choices? Forest Africa Zambia Ltd, a Zambian company, is redefining the landscape by focusing on organic and healthy indigenous wild fruits. In a country where rural communities face challenges of limited livelihood options, and the impacts of climate change, Forest Africa Zambia Ltd is charting a new path. Specializing in processing organic indigenous wild fruit juices, they embrace a zero-waste philosophy that maximizes the potential of these wild fruits. Through their innovative business model and commitment to community empowerment, Forest Africa Zambia Ltd is not only addressing pressing environmental issues but also creating alternative livelihood opportunities for rural communities through Ecosystem-based Adaptation and healthier consumption choices for consumers.

The Challenges

Image: Trees cut down for charcoal in Zambia. Photo credit: Mercy Zulu-Hume

“We were motivated to enter the growing niche market of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP) because it perfectly aligns with our goal to create a business that benefits three things: sustainable economic development, environmental conservation, and healthier food choices. Forest Africa is committed to managing forests responsibly at the community level and helping small and medium businesses grow, all while supporting Zambia’s Circular and Green economy goals. Our business model focuses on protecting community forests, improving the lives of forest communities, and reducing waste by reusing and recycling factory products. This combination of values inspired us to start our company.” – Frazer and Farhana

Images: Founders Farhana and Frazer Handondo. Photo credit: Forest Africa Zambia Ltd.

In the face of poor crop harvest either due to draught or flooding driven by climate change, rural communities in Zambia frequently turn to the production of charcoal by cutting down trees, as it serves as a vital source of income, especially in the face of climate change and adverse effects on agricultural production. Charcoal is derived from burning wood and serves as a widely used fuel for cooking and heating purposes. However, this reliance on charcoal production has its environmental consequences, including deforestation and habitat degradation. Zambia has an alarming rate of deforestation resulting in the loss of approximately 300,000 hectares of forest cover every year.

Furthermore, traditional harvesting methods and processing of wild fruits in these communities often result in waste and missed economic opportunities. Additionally, rural communities lack capacity to trigger demand for wild fruits and therefore require strong market linkages to enhance rural commerce. There is a need to explore sustainable alternatives that can address these challenges while promoting economic development, preserving the environment, and encouraging and supporting healthier consumption choices.

The Forest Africa Zambia Solution

Image: Forest Africa Zambia Ltd processing factory. Photo credit: Forest Africa Zambia Ltd.

Based on Forest Africa’s vision for sustainability, the company projects to grow in two ways; (i) increase community catchment from which indigenous fruits and fruit seeds can be collected – thereby, increasing the impact of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) across a wider area in the country, and (ii) develop a community-based agroforestry outgrower scheme using their indigenous fruit genetic seed bank. Plans are under way to partner with the SADC Genetic Resource Center (GRC) in Chongwe District for this development, especially to draw upon their experience and expertise.

Currently, the wild fruits are collected by rural communities in the catchment areas of Eastern Province, Mazabuka and Sinazongwe and transported to the factory in Chilanga District for processing. But through the community-based agroforestry outgrower scheme, indigenous fruit seeds from the genetic seed bank will be returned to these rural communities for re-planting and reforestation. The success of this scheme is envisioned to benefit more community catchments across the regions of the country where these indigenous seeds can grow such as Chongwe and Luangwa Districts. The indigenous fruit agroforestry scheme will benefit from partnerships with the Department of Agriculture and the Forestry Department in the concerned catchment areas. Currently, there is about 2500 baobab plantlets at the Forest Africa factory in Chilanga ready for planting.” Frazer and Farhana

Image: Forest Africa Zambia Ltd baobab plantlets. Photo credit: Forest Africa Zambia Ltd.

In 2017, Forest Africa Zambia Ltd was brought to life through the savings and investments of its founders, Frazer, and Farhana Handondo. Forest Africa Zambia Ltd recognises the complex challenges intertwining sustainable resource use, economic development, and climate resilience. With a steadfast commitment to addressing these interconnected issues, the company has embraced a comprehensive and solution-oriented approach. A key focus of Forest Africa Zambia Ltd lies in processing organic indigenous wild fruit juices, with notable offerings including Mabuyu (Baobab), Monkey Bread and Ngai (False Medlar) juices.

Collaborating closely with more than 200 rural households, Forest Africa Zambia Ltd sources raw materials from these communities. The company then processes the fruit at its factory located in Chilanga, situated on the outskirts of Lusaka. Here, the raw materials are transformed into finished products. Operating under the principles of extended producer responsibility and the circular economy, the company has adopted a zero-waste philosophy, ensuring that every part of the baobab fruit is used efficiently. The fruit powder is skilfully transformed into refreshing and nourishing juice, while the seeds are carefully pressed to extract valuable oils for skin and hair care. Even the shells of the baobab fruit are repurposed, converted into eco-friendly charcoal briquettes that serve as an energy source at their factory. Nothing goes to waste.

Additionally, the fibrous funicles of the baobab fruit find purpose in creating red tea, a beverage renowned for its antioxidant properties. After the fruit is processed, Forest Africa Zambia Ltd distributes its products to over 200 retail outlets in and around Lusaka, Southern and Copperbelt Provinces with plans underway to distribute to the rest of the country. Currently, the company achieves a monthly production volume of about 15,000 litres. This impressive output ensures that their delicious and nutritious juices are readily available to consumers. In addition to its processing operations, the company also sets aside a portion of the seeds for reforestation purposes.

Wild fruit value chain commercialisation pursued by Forest Africa Zambia aims to integrate rural communities into the wild fruit enterprise. Indigenous wild fruit trees have displayed remarkable resilience to drought and extreme weather conditions, making them an ideal avenue for generating alternative income sources for these communities. Forest Africa Zambia Ltd seeks to empower local communities and foster their economic well-being by actively involving rural populations in the wild fruit value chain.

CGIAR Food Systems Accelerator Support

Image: The IITA team with Forest Africa Zambia Ltd Founder and CEO Frazer. Photo credit: Dr. Emmanuel Alamu

Forest Africa Zambia Ltd is one of the agribusinesses that CGIAR Food Systems Accelerator (CFSA) supports to scale climate-smart innovations that address food system challenges. This support focuses on innovations designed with a user-centric approach for smallholder farmers and with a strong potential for commercial sustainability. This perfectly aligns with the company’s mission to produce high quality nutrient rich foods for a better standard of living.

“I am pleased to be acquainted with Forest Africa Zambia Limited, a company that uses the indigenous wild fruit to provide much-needed income to rural communities in the spirit of Ecosystem-Based Adaptation (EbA). My team from IITA and I have been assisting Forest Zambia in improving its capacity to develop and improving manuals and standard operating procedures (SOPs) to collect quality raw materials, new product development (e.g., milk and yogurt from baobab), and training on basic operating procedures (including HACCP), milk processing and a wide range of other products, product quality assessment, and so on. These efforts will increase the company’s income and earnings while indirectly providing income to rural communities that supply baobab seeds as raw materials.” – Dr. Alamu Emmanuel, Scientist Food Science and Technology, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)

CFSA Technical Advisors in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) are providing support to strengthen the company’s operational efficiency, improve product quality, and co-create new products to increase sales and earnings. Furthermore, the accelerator program is helping Forest Africa Zambia Ltd in developing a standardized approach to measuring impact, strengthening gender inclusion within its company and supply chain, navigating regulatory issues, and offering mentorship through coaching and peer-to-peer exchange.

Forest Africa Zambia Ltd’s journey exemplifies the transformative power of sustainable agribusiness. By redefining the fruit processing landscape, they are building a prosperous future for themselves and paving the way for a greener, more inclusive, and healthier Zambia. Through their commitment and dedication, they inspire us all to explore innovative solutions that harmonize economic development, environmental conservation, and the well-being of communities.

Featured image: At a food fair in Luwingu, Zambia, a woman displays forest foods they regularly forage and cultivate. Photo credit: Joe Nkadaani/CIFOR

Author: Mercy Zulu-Hume – Program Lead

The CGIAR Food Systems Accelerator is an agribusiness support program within CGIAR Research Initiative on Ukama Ustawi: Diversification for resilient agrifood systems in East and Southern Africa. Responsibility for editing, proofreading, layout, opinions expressed, and any possible errors lies with the authors and not the institutions involved.

CGIAR is a global research partnership for a food-secure future. To learn more about its Research Initiative for East and Southern Africa Ukama Ustawi, please visit here.

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