SMEs digest: Madeje sisters have grand plans for grapes subsector

Tuesday July 27 2021
Madeje pic

Eva’s Farm at Chamwino, owned by the Madeje sisters. PHOTO | THE CITIZEN CORRESPONDENT

By Gadiosa Lamtey

Dar es Salaam. As the government puts in place new strategies on how to increase grapes production, two sisters who are involved in the subsector look to making their grape farm the cynosure of fellow farmers and tourists alike.

To that end, the two sisters, Irene Madeje, and her younger sibling, Lilian Madeje – as the managing director and finance director respectively of E. H. Agriculture Enterprise – plan to invest more in their 30-acre vineyard located at Buigiri in Chamwino, Dodoma Region, popular simply as ‘Eva’s Farm.’

Noting that the grapes subsector has a huge potential that is yet to be fully tapped, the sisters mentioned value-addition to the crop along its entire value chain – including making by-products from grapes – as being one of the yet-to-be-harnessed potentials.

Generally, grape farmers in Tanzania are smallholders who own an acre or so of the crop, with a few cooperative and other institutions owning big farms.

The farm was virtually bequeathed to the two sisters by their mother, Ms Evelyn Madeje who died earlier this year.

Therefore, in seeking to make sure that their mother’s dreams come true, the two have decided to modernise grapes farming on their inherited farm to create jobs in the community and add value to the crop.

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Two of the 30 acres are planted with ‘table grapes’ for direct consumption while fresh, while the rest of the acreage is planted with grapes for making wine, spirits and juices.

Their goal for the next four years is to make the area a major tourist attraction, even as they promote Tanzanian grapes in foreign markets. Both ventures are intended to ultimately contribute to economic growth at both the household and national levels.

The two siblings-cum-partners-in-business agree that grapes farming is a lucrative business, especially considering that Dodoma grapes have a special uniqueness in terms of sweetness in making ‘Makutupora Red’ and ‘Makutopora White’ wines.

Recently the deputy minister for Agriculture, Mr Hussein Bashe, lamented that the production of grapes for beverages-making is still so low that the country has to import some ten million litres of grape juice a year!

Because of the huge untapped potential, the government has formulated some strategies intended to boost agriculture by investing heavily in modern/quality seeds, lending to farmers, functional irrigation schemes, expertise and pesticides that are appropriate to grapes farming.

Tanzania harvests grapes twice a year, thus virtually doubling the opportunities for farmers and traders who process grapes into wine, etc.

The two sisters, who were both studying finance, have now decided to focus on improving agriculture with the aim of increasing employment for young people by investing in new technology and modern seeds.


How they started the business

Ms Irene Madeje told The Citizen recently that the farm was established in 2013 by her late mother and they took it and started supervising just last year. “During her lifetime she loved to go with us to the field so we knew some few things relating to farm. It gave us a hard time once we were supposed to develop it after her absence… But, we have to sit down and agree we must continue this Mother’s dream and make sure we go even further.”

She said this year they expect to harvest 74,000 tonnes out of that 12,000 tonnes was for table grapes and said that this huge production has never been reached. In the past the production was low.

The Madeje sisters this year alone have invested $36 million in their farm as working capital. Part of the money was spent to employ an agro-economist, agricultural extension officers, and operation managers, while another part has gone into installing a new irrigation system, leading to increased production.

Also, the sisters have started a Vineyard Tours programme under which people tour their farm and nearby areas to learn firsthand how grapes are grown – and sample fresh juice made by their company from the grapes they produce.

“From our experience and exposure resulting in a wider understanding of the market, we will use our knowledge to promote our grapes since we have seen the big potential in this sub-sector. We believe the grapes sub-sector can contribute a lot to tourism and we are seeing people flocking to our farm,” she said.

The sisters said an acre of their farm produces four tonnes of grapes. But, this is not yet good enough, as there are other countries which produce up to 12 tonnes of graves from an acre of farmed land.

Currently, more than 100 people directly benefit from the farm including seven people who have been employed to help in supervising and managing all the farm’s activities.

The Tanzania Breweries Limited (TBL) is the farm’s biggest customer, buying almost all the industrial graves harvested.

They also sell table grapes under the ‘Eva’s Farm’ brand to supermarkets and other outlets, the Madeje sisters say.


Challenges and future plans

Agricultural financing in Tanzania is still a big challenge. However, the government is continuing to put in place ways and means to how best it can help small farmers to readily access affordable loans, the sisters said.

Also, there is a need for research institutes to work hard and introduce modern, quality seeds. For far too long, farmers in Tanzania have been using seeds that they inherited from missionaries in the colonial days, and which have not been able to increase productivity – and, therefore, grapes production.

There is also a need to provide the right education on the varieties of table grapes, and also wine-making, as doing this would help to increase productivity of our grapes.

Table grapes are more expensive than industrial grapes, and if farmers are supported, they will invest more in their variety so that they can eventually also export them.

In an effort to exploit the value chain and add value to the grapes within a relatively short period, the company plans to establish a processing factory for grape juices and by-products for local sale and for export.

In the coming years, the company plans to invest in technology that would make it possible to store table grapes for a long time – and sell them throughout the years.

“We are now in talks with some traders who sell fresh grape juice so that they can also stock and supply frozen grapes,” the Madeje sisters said.