Malawi on the map – FemBioBiz Phase 2

Zakia

The second phase of FemBioBiz Season 2 has concluded for Malawi, home to a population of 18 million of which half sustains itself on agriculture. The country faces challenges in improving healthcare, creating employment and expanding its economy amongst others. Malawian female entrepreneurs however have the potential and vigour to play a central role in addressing these problems.

At the training event, coordinated by mHub from 11-13 July 2018, eight women entrepreneurs pitched their businesses to a panel of judges for a chance to move on to the final stage of the competition at the SA Innovation Summit.  

The judge panel for Malawi consisted of: Boardington Msulira from Small and Medium Enterprises Development Institute (SMEDI); McCartney Gift Lora from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism; Ngabaghila Chatata, Managing Director of Thanthwe Farms; and Fannie Gondwe, Malawi’s country-level winner of FemBioBiz Season 1. Also on the panel was Marja-Reetta Paaso, representing BioFISA II.

The businesses that were pitched to the judges were varied, from natural cosmetics to nutritious products, and four of the eight participants were selected to go through to the final competition. 

Dr Wezzie Mkwaila successfully pitched a new way to coat seeds to increase their viability. Malawi relies on maize as its staple food, but its production is dwindling and according to Dr Mkwaila, new seed technologies such as hers could be ideal to avert a food crisis: she believes that the time for the commercialisation of Genetically Modified Organisms has come. According to the Seed Trade Association of Malawi (STAM), the seed sector in the country stands to reap big in the projected $73 billion global seed industry if the government supports the adoption of genetically modified seeds.

The second contestant to go through was Women Entrepreneurship Malawi Ambassador and beauty consultant Ursula Banda. She is determined to utilise her country’s abundant indigenous resources to penetrate Malawi’s cosmeceutical industry. The African beauty and personal care market is expected to double to 2.4 billion in 2050 due to the rising middle class and amplified urbanisation. Currently Malawi’s main exports are tobacco, tea, sugar and cotton – but the commercialisation of its indigenous forest/plants could yield nutritional and medicinal wonders while also providing its rural community with added financial incentives.

The third finalist is Food Technologist Jean Pankuku. She wants to add value to the orange-fleshed sweet potato through her company, Tehilah Enterprise. There is a trend in Africa to promote orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) to improve the lives of the poor; in Malawi, 800 000 children under the age of five are malnourished and 1 million suffer from vitamin A deficiency. OFSP is an important source of vitamin A, a nutrient that helps the body fight infections, keeps the eyes and skin moist and prevents night blindness. 

The final contestant to go through was Temwanani Gunda of JAT Investments, whose business focuses on growing button mushrooms (instead of the more common oyster mushrooms) – and the demand for the mushrooms far exceeds her current production capacity. 

The FemBioBiz Season 2 Grand Finale will take place 12-13 September 2018 at the SA Innovation Summit in Cape Town, while the remaining competitions to select finalists from the other participating countries will take place between July and August.