How young Tanzania entrepreneur puts spices on world markets

Monday September 13 2021
Spices pic

Spices entrepreneur Fatma Mbaga speaks during a recent event. Trading in spices is a lucrative business, but many Tanzanians do not take it seriously enough. PHOTO | THE CITIZEN CORRESPONDENT

By Gadiosa Lamtey

Dar es Salaam. As Fatma Mbaga, 25, was growing up, she dreamt of becoming an aircraft pilot. However, that did not become the case on the ground for various reasons – and, instead, she decided to get into the spices business.

Ms Mbaga takes this opportunity to share with our esteemed readers – including especially our youth – delightful morsels of that eventful journey early in her life, including the hitherto untapped opportunities that are to be found in the spices sub-sector area of business.

According to her, spices are as yet an undiscovered gold mine which people are yet to fully exploit. Worldwide demand for spices has really never gone down since the days of European explorers Vaso da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, Christopher Columbus and the like.

In consequence thereof, there is much wealth to be garnered from the spices business, both domestically and globally.

The biggest challenge in the business for Tanzanians is that spices are not considered as other agricultural cash crops like cashew nuts, coffee, cotton, sisal and tobacco. Besides, there has not been much value-addition to spices to capture export markets.

Spices are a food, and are also used in making perfumes, as well as a cure for various ailments that include – but are not limited to – hypertension, hypotension, toothache and diabetes.

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“Sometimes, you may fail to achieve your dream due to various inevitable reasons. I wanted to be a pilot, but I was hampered by the high costs involved. However, I did not give up on life, and looked for something else, settling for a business career – and, so far, I have not regretted for it,” said Ms Mbaga.

After various training courses,her institution – named ‘Get Aroma Spices Company’ – produces and sells various spices to which value is added to increase their value and shell-life longevity.

The products are also reasonably low-priced, so that virtually all Tanzanians can afford them.

“There are many opportunities in this area because the use of ingredients for various domestic products is increasing daily, with the presence of a large number of manufacturers but what sets us apart from others is how we get our products,” she says. “After failing to study as a pilot, I turned to Mzumbe University for a Bachelor’s degree course on Business Administration and Entrepreneurship Development – and for which I graduated in 2019.

But, when I was in my second year degree course, I took time off to sell second-hand clothing. This generated for me the capital with which I started trading in grains,” she said.

Speaking to the SMEs Digest, Ms Mbaga pontificated that, “in business, there is rising and falling. Unfortunately, the grains business did not bear fruits after I was ripped-off a total of Sh910,000 by a fellow businessman – thus ruining the venture.”

Thereafter, she did not have much to do for lack of capital. But, that was until “a friend of mine who used to give me the spices that I used at college for tea advised me to start a business in spices. To that end, she loaned me 100 sachets of spices for starters. That was how and when my journey in the spices business started in earnest,” she recalls.

“Indeed, I just as soon linked up with the Sokoine University Graduate Entrepreneurs Cooperative (Sugeco) for incubation and a place to do the production of my wares,” she says.

“The uniqueness of my products lies in the fact that they are produced by farmers who use organic fertilisers. The fragrant smell of my products is natural – and they are blessed with the quality logo of the Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS), signifying that they are produced in a clean and safe manner for consumers.”


Huge potential

More than 100 farmers in Morogoro, Singida, Songea, Mbeya and Iringa administrative regions currently benefit from the Ms Mbaga’s company, as she buys an assortment of raw spices from them for processing, packaging and sale to end-consumers.

The ‘Get Aroma’ factory – which is currently located in Morogoro under the Sugeco incubation – has the installed capacity to produce more than a tonne of spices per month.

“We have two main customer types: those who want raw spices and those who want processed spices,” she says, noting that they sell up to ten tonnes of raw spices a month.

Currently, their products have ready markets in the Morogoro, Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro and Lindi regions, and the plan is to expand to new markets more in coming days and months under the brand ‘Get Aroma Spices.’

Commenting on the medicinal side of spices, Ms Mbaga told SMEs Digest that “A good example was last year when the viral Covid-19 pandemic was ravaging the world, and some experts advised people to use ingredients such as ginger, garlic and many others in daily meals as a precaution against infection.”

She added: “Many medicines and cosmetics are made from spices such as ginger, cinnamon, lemongrass and garlic – and their market is huge internationally.

“Unfortunately, spices are not given a priority because our farmers are yet to know about the available potential in their domestic and export markets.

“After seeing the huge potential in these areas, I will help in linking farmers and customers so that – after the farmers see how huge the demand is – they will more than likely start to seriously focus in increasing production, thus eventually boosting their income no end,” she said.


From Sh70,000 to Sh7 million

“I started with an initial capital of only Sh70,000. But, largely as a result of sheer hard work and focus, this has grown to Sh7 million today. Indeed, my target has not yet been reached. But, at least, I can see a bright light at the end of the tunnel,” she said, adding that “I already employ six people directly and indirectly.”

Fort heir part, Sugeco have contributed considerably to Ms Mbaga’s success – providing her with a place where she can churn out her products; networking and connections; business capacity building,and generally increasing her knowledge.

But, this will be the last year that her company will be working under incubation.

“In 2018, I received the ‘Award for Best Women Entrepreneur in Africa.’ Women Entrepreneurs in Agriculture to me was a very good thing. But, also through my business, I can run my line without depending on my parents. I got an opportunity to participate in more than 50 exhibitions – a thing that increased my exposure,” she virtually gloats, basking in her success so far.

“For the next three years from now, I will be one of the largest companies in Tanzania to increase the value of spices in the country; a company that would create over 50 direct and indirect jobs to young people, and with many farmers benefiting from us,” Ms Mbaga says.

The company will also be exporting more of its products. This should help to encourage farmers to cultivate more productively, adhering to all good farming practices and agricultural guidelines.

Every successful venture would usually have undergone challenges, Ms Mbaga pontificates, citing her challenges as including inadequate capital; products packaging, and a multiplicity of taxes.

“Success is not a matter for one day; it needs commitment and – like a child’s development – one must go through various difficult stages, starting small, and the rest will follow.

“Otherwise, unresolved challenges at the start of a business contribute to many young people failing to keep going forward,” Ms FatmaMbaga says – adding thoughtfully that, “all the same, the relevant authorities should look into all that.”