Cheese-making business flourishes

A flourishing home-made cheese making business run by a widowed mother of three along the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border has become a financially viable business, thanks to a microcredit loan. CLAYTON MASEKESA reports from VUMBA.

Tamari Chidhakwa - preparing some recipes.
Tamari Chidhakwa – preparing some recipes.

When her husband died seven years ago, Tamari Chidhakwa, 41, was left alone without a job and with three small children to support. Her husband had a small dairy farm where he was rearing the cattle that produce the milk she now uses to make her cheese.

Her flourishing business has also stimulated the local economy, providing small-scale dairy farmers at Border Streams in the Vumba area with added income.

Using the experience she gained while working for Dairibord’s cheese processing department in the 1990s, and equipped by various trainings from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Chidhakwa began by producing cheese from home on a small-scale.

Through her determination and a microfinance loan of $5,000 from Finmark Finance in 2010, she Chidhakwa established her company, Border Cheese. It is now a prosperous business, producing an average 1.5 tonnes of gouda and cheddar cheese per month. With its cool climate and abundant cattle, the area offers the ideal conditions for cheese production.

Long hard road

But she travelled a long, hard road to establish her company. The difficulties almost overwhelmed her, particularly in the early stages. “I had few assets and little equipment on a small production site with no access to good markets. I found the start-up particularly difficult,” she said.

Undaunted by the risks and responsibilities involved, she persevered and eventually her hard work paid off. Receiving the loan made a crucial difference to her business.

“Using the loan, I went to South Africa and China and bought new processing equipment. I repaired and expanded the production site, and founded Border Cheese,” she said. “Now I am now enjoying the fruits of hard work. Cheese-making in itself is a risky venture. It is a slow and labour-intensive process that requires a great deal of supervision, as well as laboratory analysis and tests,” Chidhakwa said.

“The smallest instance of carelessness can spoil the product, and many risks are involved in the different stages of production, from milk storage, pasteurisation and curd-making to pressing of the cheese, salting, ripening and storage,” she explained.

She has managed to expand her business and her cheese is now sold in various supermarkets in Zimbabwe as well as in neighbouring countries Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Botswana.

Qualified staff

She now employs 14 people on a full-time basis, including her children.

Her first born daughter, Gamuchirai, who has a national diploma in Accountancy is the Accountant while her son Garikai is an Administrator.

She has managed to employ qualified staff to work in the laboratory and she helps in the preparation of recipes and flavours.

She sometimes hires contract workers when the need arises.

“I always hire a lot of women whenever possible so that we empower ourselves,” she said.

She has an office block, has two delivery vans and three other pool cars. She has been offering cheese making lessons and trainings to various aspiring women in Mutare.

Chidhakwa’s business is helping stimulate the local economy in the border area and some surrounding communities in Mutare South constituency.

She buys 650 litres of milk per day from 15 families, generating income for her fellow villagers.

Bright future “I’m so happy that I have overcome the many obstacles and been able to secure this prosperous future for my children. My message to other women is that they should not sit back and lose hope. We should make use of opportunities that come our way,” she said.

For Chidhakwa the future is bright. “I now intend to expand production. If all goes well I plan to buy a bigger plant, more equipment and a laboratory. I also hope to open up a second production site in Harare, where the market is more demanding,” she said.

The Finmark Finance Loans Officer, Lawrence Chaibva, said his organisation’s services were for small business development.

“This is part of a broader drive to support rural and economic development in disadvantaged and remote areas of the country,” he said.

Since 2005 Finmark Finance has helped strengthen the economic and social position of women through microfinance projects that enable women’s businesses to take root and thrive. – For further information contact Finmark Finance, 2 Murray Building, Herbert Chitepo Street. Mutare. TEL: +263 2 66840

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