In 2015, more than 2.7 million Tanzanian children under 5 years were estimated to be stunted and more than 600,000 were suffering from acute malnutrition, of which 100,000 were severe cases, according to Unicef.
Ten regions account for 58 per cent of all stunted children and five regions account for half of the children suffering from severe acute malnutrition in the country. Given the importance of nutrition in the overall physical and cognitive development of children, there is a need to focus on the first 1,000 days of a child’s life to prevent the negative effects of malnutrition from becoming irreversible.
Unicef argues that investing in nutrition is essential for Tanzania to progress. It is estimated that the country will lose USD 20 billion by 2025 if the nutrition situation does not improve. In contrast, by investing in nutrition and improving the population’s nutritional status, the country could gain up to USD 4.7 billion by 2025.
In her own small way, Jolenta Joseph is making a difference. Operating from Morogoro Region, in 2017 she started a simple business of buying and selling fresh (raw) orange fleshed sweet potatoes for their nutritional value.
In March last year, the business was registered as Sanavita Company Limited which processes and packages the sweet potatoes as well as pro-vitamin A maize and high iron and zinc beans into nutritional food.
“When I started I did not have capital, I was given the crops on credit but because of the goodwill I exhibited, more and more farmers were willing to give me their produce and so I moved on from selling them raw to drying the potatoes and selling the flour,” she says.
Jolenta said that the business is not only profitable but also helps smallholder farmers in rural areas to grow more crops and avert post-harvest losses.
Most importantly, she asserts, is that the unique value in their products is that they are rich in nutrients because the process she uses, such as the use of solar energy, ensures the nutrients are not depleted.
“This is more than just doing business with us; we go out of our way to create public awareness as well to ensure people understand the need of consuming nutritional foods as a way of addressing malnutrition, stunting and anaemia among pregnant women,” she says.
But the going has not always been easy, Jolenta says, because when she started buying and selling raw produce, the major challenge was securing an assured market.
She started by selling 200 kilogrammes per consignment in 2017 but by now, on a good season, she can sell up to between five and ten tons per consignment.
“Similarly, when I started processing I started small with about the capacity to process, package and sell ten kilograms per week but at the moment we have the capacity to process, package and sell up to almost 500 kilograms per month,” she says.
Registered in March last year, her company’s feat did not go unrecognised. Sanavita Company Limited recently emerged the winner of SUN Pitch Competition for 2019/2020 and it will represent the country in the Sun Business Network to be held in Singapore in March.
On that backdrop, more small businesses in the country have also been encouraged to engage in ventures focusing on nutrition not only for its viability but also as a means to combat malnutrition.
Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) Country Director, Enock Msinguzi, told participants of Lishe Accelerator II recently that innovation is crucial for any business model to succeed and that the same goes with nutrition.
He stresses people need to be encouraged to do more business in matters that focus on nutrition because besides the area being profitable, it is also important in terms of improving the health of the general population.
“Confidence is important and this can be made possible through training as we have witnessed over the period that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have been going through the accelerator,” he says.
Lishe Startup Accelerator is a program to accelerate Tanzania’s nutrition sensitive SMEs to be investor ready undertaken by GAIN in collaboration with Sahara Ventures.
Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Business Network, in collaboration with key partners, launched the second edition of the SUN Pitch Competition for 2019/2020, with the theme ‘Rethinking Nutrition Innovations’, according to Project Manager, Abbas Sykes from Sahara Ventures.
He notes the competition aims to support innovative solutions for improved nutrition by connecting SMEs in emerging markets with technical assistance and investment opportunities.
According to Sykes, the SME that emerged the winner out of five finalists during this year’s competition will represent the country at SUN Business Network in Singapore in March next year.
Assistant Director in the Prime Minister’s Office, Policy, Coordination and Parliament (Performance Management), Devota Gabriel observed that the program is crucial for the country in many ways.
She said since it a permanent endeavour, it will go a long way to provide a platform for SMEs to network with different organisations to tackle the problem of malnutrition, especially among children.
“Malnutrition leads to stunting and if the problem of stunting persists the country is bound to lose crucial manpower in the future. This program will help low income households to get access to affordable improved diet,” she said.
During the launch of the program early in the year, Jonathan Tench, Global Coordinator, SUN Business Network said this year’s competition promises to harness the innovations of over 1,000 SMEs from over 20 SUN Countries across Africa and Asia to address one of the world’s greatest challenges – to reduce the global burden of malnutrition.