But out of this calamity, the widow mother of three, has wrought an amazing success story. She took the skills she had acquired during her 15 years at Cairns Foods and started her own jam-making business.
Today she is the proud owner of a company based in Vumba called Homeground Food Processers, which produces Homeground Guava, Strawberry and Mango jam.
The company was fully established in 2010 after Feresi became a beneficiary of the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives that funds social, economic, and technical projects. The Fund works closely with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development.
Feresi’s jam-making co-operative has 10 employees, six of whom were her former workmates. The others are single women from the community.
“My company sought to unite women in a business venture using skills they already possessed, because the majority of them we were retrenched,” said Feresi. With the funding the women began organising themselves. Falling back on food production skills and an organic lifestyle they had practiced for decades, they decided to make jam using local fruits.
“This was an opportunity to get ahead. I had to see if I could do it,” said Feresi. “At first we were stressed that we had been retrenched, but we were determined to make it one day. I knew which women need the job, and who would be able to work hard together as a team.”
Through Feresi’s experience and vast knowledge in jam processing, she has done in-house training for the women. All of the jams are organic and call for minimal ingredients, including fruit grown just few kilometres away.
“When we started we were afraid that no one would buy the jam,” said Feresi. But all the flavours have become quite popular in the area for their delicious taste as well as the story of the women who produce it.
Today, customers include a local hotel and restaurant, tourists who visit the nearby Vumba resort area and customers flocking to a weekend farmer’s market. The group now supplies products to centres throughout the country including Mutare, Bulawayo and Harare. The company also has business transactions in neighbouring Mozambique.
Other loyal customers purchase boxes as gifts for friends in the United States and Canada.
The company which is growing rapidly now has four workers in the processing unit that has a small jam processing machine. Some peel guavas, strawberries and mangoes. Others skim the fruit as it simmers in pots.
Then there is the packaging and labelling department, a finance and administration office, a salesman who doubles as a driver and a security guard. Feresi doubles as the director and is responsible for recipes.
According to Violet Maphosa, the Finance and Administration Officer, revenue from jam sales is increasing steasdily.
Sabina Mundembe, who works in the processing unit, said she had received good training and was now able to earn enough to feed her family and pay her children's school fees.
Sandra Kuwaza , the Project Coordinator for Canada Fund , said it aimed to improve access to basic services in marginalised rural and urban zones. “Projects focus on children and youth, women empowerment and food security and economic growth, in line with priorities set out in the Action Plan for National Recovery and Development in Africa,” she explained.
Juliet Mazikana, the Projects Officer from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs said: 'We’re delighted with the progress made with Homeground Food Processors. We are happy with this project that has set out to effect significant change in our lives in as far as women empowerment is concerned.
“We hope that all other women have learned a great deal from the project, not least of the importance of remaining sensitive to the community’s concerns and aspirations,” she said. “This project has become the absolute reference point on women’s empowerment on how we plan and support community-based initiatives.”
Feresi has plans to install a bigger jam-making plant in Mutare in the near future. "My dream is that eventually we could sell this jam to the whole of Zimbabwe and dominate the international market too. Everyone has worked so hard and cooperated together to this project to become to what it is today.
"The jam project has meant a lot to us. I believe God wanted it to be this way. We only hope that we will be able to expand to bigger levels and employ more people,” she added.Post published in: News