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Difficult to compete as a local food processor, says Zambian entrepreneur

"We grow the food, grow the raw material, actually create the food, and then have to import the packaging. So for me to compete with a product from Turkey, a product even from South Africa, is very difficult,"

“We grow the food, grow the raw material, actually create the food, and then have to import the packaging. So for me to compete with a product from Turkey, a product even from South Africa, is very difficult,” said Monica Musonda, founder of Java Foods, at the World Economic Forum on Africa. Photo by Greg Beadle.

In 2012 Monica Musonda left her 15-year career as a successful commercial lawyer to return to her home country Zambia and set up a food processing company, Java Foods. The company supplies the market with the eeZee instant noodles brand.

According to Musonda one of the motives behind her decision to venture into food processing was based on how unexploited the sector is in the country.

However, she has learnt that the opportunity does not come without challenges.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum on Africa last week, she explained while there is food processing potential in Zambia, it is difficult for local producers to compete with cheap imports. “This is because as producers we are faced with a number of high costs.”

Cost of labour, distribution and power remain high, while the need to import certain materials adds to expenses. Although Zambia is a strong producer of wheat – which is the main raw material for the manufacturing of noodles – other materials have to be imported into the landlocked country.

“I will give you a simple example of packaging. We grow the food, grow the raw material, actually create the food, and then have to import the packaging,” she highlighted.

“So for me to compete with a product from Turkey, a product even from South Africa, is very difficult.”

She hopes with time others will start to recognise the opportunity within the Zambian packaging sector as food processing grows. “Because if we have a strong processing industry the packaging industry should surely then come up.”

Speaking up

Although the opportunity and demand for local food processing exists across the continent, it remains vastly unexploited. For example, while Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s largest producer of cocoa, it only opened its first chocolate factory less than a month ago.

Musonda said food processors should look to engage government around implementing the right polices to support a more enabling environment for production to cater for both local and regional markets.

“And government again plays a very strong role in making sure we have access to regional markets as well,” she emphasised.

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