As Fempreneurs Africa Magazine, we had the privilege of meeting with and interviewing Nomaliso Musasiwa, Founding Director of Fresh In A Box. She won the Federation of Young Farmers of Zimbabwe’s Female Farmer of the Year award and the Best Agro Innovation Award and was named the Pace Setter for the year 2021. Nomaliso is best described as a train that’s picking up speed. She’s funny, unconventional, and larger than life. In this article, we’re going to get to know her a little better and take a small peek into her private life, find out what makes her tick.
Tell us about yourself
I was born in Bulawayo and did my high schooling at Dominican Convent Bulawayo school for girls. My dream was to be a pharmacist, so I studied Maths, Biology and Chemistry for A Level. In high school, I was a Junior Councillor and an Activist for the Green Fingers, a Global Warming cause. When I applied to the University of Zimbabwe, I didn’t qualify for Pharmacy and was given an opportunity to study for the Honours Degree in Mathematics. At first I wanted to turn down the offer but one of my mentors advised me to take it up, as an honors degree was just a qualifier, so I did. I am glad I did, University of Zimbabwe played a huge role in me becoming who I am today. I joined the Student’s Representative Council as Secretary of Information. I’m a very passionate person about things that I believe in, and I take up opportunities to speak up for these whenever I can.
You’re definitely not a back seat person! So how did you move from being this Maths person to who you are now? How would you describe yourself now?
Now I’d describe myself as a mom, wife, business woman and activist. When I left University, I considered getting employment as an Actuary or in the banking profession. However, for both options, I needed further qualifications. I considered going back to academia, getting my masters and maybe becoming a professor eventually… While I was considering these options, my husband Kuda and I came up with the idea of starting Fresh In A Box.
What was the thinking that led to the formation of Fresh In A Box?
We started Fresh In A Box in 2018. We realized that there was a lot of good, fresh produce being grown by farmers countrywide and they were struggling with getting good markets for them. Further to this, no one was doing home deliveries of fresh farm produce and yet the need was there, especially for the older generation who struggle with mobility. There was also a need for this service from Zimbabweans living in the diaspora where they could buy vegetables for their families back home, and have assurance that the food would be farm-fresh. Our by-line became “delivering happiness” as this is exactly what we ensure that every single one of our customers experiences, happiness.
We decided to deliver fresh farm produce as packages. So we’d put together various vegetables that were in demand, give the whole box a price as a package, and deliver orders. Initially, we’d get all our produce from local farmers. We took advantage of the digital era and created a space where farmers could tell us what they would have and when, so that we could plan our boxes accordingly. However, after a while we needed to control our supply chain as farmers became more one minded, flooded with one product and scarce on others. God fated, we got an offer to operate from a farm, a backward integration opportunity. We took it! And started growing veg to compliment our growers
At that point, I was still thinking strictly as a Mathematician, applying formulae to everything and expecting things to toe the line and follow my expectations. However, the farming cycle was something I had no appreciation for, and was soon going to learn. A friend of our family leased 10 hectares of land to us and we began to be farmers. We now grow our own things like carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower.
Did you have any agricultural experience at this point?
No I didn’t. We hired an Agronomist and a Farm Manager. And we continue to work very closely with them down to this day. Initially, when they’d say we need this herbicide or this fertilizer or this kind of labour, I wouldn’t understand why it was needed. But with time and experience, I’ve grown to understand our crops and their cycle very intimately, which makes our working relationship a lot easier.
Have you enjoyed running this venture? What have you gotten out of it? What milestones has the business hit?
Helping farmers reach markets more efficiently, being a part of giving other players in the value chain some business, providing employment and income to our employees’ families, taking advantage of advancements in the ICT sector and learning how to price produce throughout the year has been a rewarding experience for me. A huge learning curve. The business has also grown in terms of sales and number of employees. We now employ 10 people permanently, 18 on seasonal contracts, and 8 on part time basis as and when we need them.
Managing so many employees is not without its challenges. I handle it by following strict business guidelines. I can be friendly with my employees, but I don’t excuse poor work performance. Every employee knows their Key Performance Indicators and the consequences of missing them are applied consistently, without fear or favour. This helps the operation run smoothly.
Everyone knows Fresh In A Box. How did you get word out so quickly?
It was good word of mouth that did the trick. We always deliver every order on time. When we mess up, we have a policy of resolving within 12hours. We apologize big. And we make sure that we don’t make the same mistake twice. As Fresh In A Box, we are over-communicators. We always keep our customers abreast of any developments that could affect them. The secret sauce is having Kuda’s 20 years of experience. You can’t match that kind of value.
Those are some encouraging stats and tips right there! Alright, so how do you manage to be a mother and wife in all this busy-ness?
(Laughs) Well I’m definitely not a conventional kind of mother and wife. I love my husband and my daughters and I do my best to try and maintain the closeness that we must have. However, as a businesswoman whose work is mainly done from home, I have to be careful to make time for work when I need to. So for example, my 3 year old daughter Danai understands when I have to be in the office for work. She either goes to play, or sits quietly with me and does some coloring. I also have a personal assistant to help me keep my work routine organized. As a business woman with young children, I think it’s imperative to have a personal assistant, and a maid to take care of your kids while you work.
I set aside Saturdays as non-negotiable mommy days. The girls and I will either go out with friends on play dates since most of my friends also have small children. Or we’ll go to a park and play ball. Or visit some places of amusement that are friendly to my small daughters. I also make sure that we have breakfast and supper together as a family. This gives us time to touch base and keep abreast of each other as a family.
With my husband, we work together. Our work and our marriage are so closely intertwined that I could barely describe where one stops and the other starts. Our business is a mutual love, so we don’t really have a time where we say, let’s stop working and start being a married couple. It’s all merged and it works really well for us. My husband is my best friend and a part of my every day. He almost lost his life due to covid last year when we were expecting our youngest daughter, who is now a year old. We named her Minana, which means “Miracles” because so many were dying from Covid and we felt that Kuda’s recovery was indeed the biggest one of the many miracles that we continue to experience every day.
That’s beautiful. And finally, how would you advise another young woman wishing to follow in your footsteps as a farmer and business woman?
I’d say, first, structure yourself very clearly on what it is that you want to grow. Think of farming as a business and create a business plan and model. If you can, get some experience by working at a farm that does what you want to do. Read a lot, do plenty of research, know all the parts of your business back to front, and after that, continue to learn. Invest in knowledge. And finally, have enough capital for your entire cycle upfront. It’s very stressful and next to impossible to experience success when you try to bootstrap farming. You’d rather start small if your capital is limited, then grow it from there.
And that marked the end of our interview with Noma. We walked away feeling wiser, and a little in love with her family.