Communities in and around Rutenga Growth point in Mwenezi this year reaped huge cash dividends from the marula or mapfura fruit ubiquitous in the arid district after they sold a record 1 100 tonnes of the fruit that is a key raw material for a processing and beneficiation plant commissioned by President Mnangagwa in October last year.
The processing factory built by the National Biotechnology Authority of Zimbabwe had an initial target to buy only 200 tonnes of the fruit in its first year of operation from the rural Mwenezi heartland and neighbouring Chivi where the fruit is found in abundance.
However, so high was the supply side of the fruit that the authority ended up buying nearly six times more with the top quality earning villagers US$5 for a 50kg bag.
The authority resolved to buy all the fruit shipped by villagers from all parts of Mwenezi with the firm pulling out all the stops to make sure President Mnangagwa’s dream of using locally available resources to grow the economy through value addition and innovation was achieved.
The Marula-Mapfura plant was built at the instigation of the Second Republic that is placing innovation at the centre of the quest to achieve rural industrialisation.
Year in year out, Mwenezi villagers watched as the marula or mapfura fruit wasted away or provided food for some domestic animals while a minuscule fraction was used to brew home-made mumbai which barely benefited communities in the area.
After buying the 1 100 tonnes in its first year following the commissioning of the processing plant, the future looks even brighter for the Mwenezi community as more money will be getting into their pockets from the sale of the fruit.
The authority is bullish about the processing plant’s prospects with a near guaranteed supply of the main raw material at its Rutenga plant.
The firm’s chief executive and registrar Dr Dexter Savadye yesterday confirmed that a bright future beckoned for his firm as it consolidates operations at its processing plant.
He noted that deliveries of the fruit had surpassed expectations.
“We had a modest target of the fruit that we intended to purchase during the selling season but we closed having bought 1 100 tonnes of mapfura-marula fruit of different grades,” said Dr Savadye.
“The fruit harvesting season has now ended and we are very happy with the quantity of the fruit that we bought
because it also meant more money for the villagers from around who supplied us with the fruit.”
Dr Savadye said operations at the plant would continue non-stop throughout the year as they operated based on seasons from the season of buying to fermentation and pulping.
“The fact that we will be operating throughout the year means there is job security for the villagers hired by the Rutenga plant. Right now we have in stock about 50 000 litres of mapfura-marula wine that we are waiting to mature before we can package it for the market.”
Priority in terms of supplying the various finished products from the Rutenga plant will be given to the local market.
“We have 30 000 units (of 330ml bottles) of marula wine that has been packaged and is ready for the market and we are targeting the local market initiative while we continue with market research,” said Dr Savadye.
The plant was also working to produce blended fruit pulp by mixing fresh marula-mapfura pulp with aged pulp for the market.
Dr Savadye said the lucrative export market was also being opened by his firm which intends to export cosmetics oil made from the mapfura-marula kernel (shomwe).
“We are currently in the process of drying mapfura-marula kernels which we will then crack to get the nut inside. The nut is used in the production of cosmetic oil. We have about 300 tonnes of mapfura-marula kernels and we are still to determine the quantum of oil that we will get, he said.
The authority was still engaging the best markets to sell the cosmetics oil from its Rutenga plant though the European Union and Africa were known niche markets for the oil.
Going into the future the Rutenga processing plant was also eyeing processing other fruits like mangoes and water melons to produce juices and other items for local consumption and export.
This will entail the plant first producing various prototypes of products that will be tested on the market.
Long queues were the order of the day at the plant during the peak harvesting season as villagers jostled to deliver their fruit at Rutenga growth point.
The plant was initially opened for two weeks on a trial run in early January this year, before it started operating at full throttle to coincide with the start of the mapfura harvesting season.
Mapfura-marula are harvested from end of January to end of April and the fruit is abundant in Mwenezi, parts of Chivi and Chiredzi which are synonymous with arid climate.
The plant, the first of it’s kind in Zimbabwe, processes and value adds the indigenous fruit to produce edible oils, juices, cosmetics oil and wines for both the local market and export among other items.
The mapfura-marula frenzy has hit Rutenga with the economic fortunes of ordinary villagers seriously upgraded as they earned disposable income from just picking and selling the fruit at the plant.
During the peak season around 128 workers will be attached to the plant working on shifts.
The plant built by NBAZ at Rutenga has become the growth point’s first heavy processing industry, prompting Mwenezi Rural District Council officials to seek town status for the fledgling urban settlement located close to the Harare-Masvingo-Beitbridge highway.