By Upendo Mwalongo
Open Kitchen is a restaurant owned and operated by Upendo Hilda Mwalongo, the National Nutrition Champion under the European Union (EU) funded AGRI-CONNECT flagship project in Tanzania.
The project aims to raise awareness about healthy diets while also establishing systems to help absorb pandemic-like shocks to food and market accessibility.
Upendo, a mother of one, has been an entrepreneur for the past 21 years, and in 2014 she decided to start her own food catering company in Tanzania, Open Kitchen 2014, serving food and beverage.
Business was booming until COVID-19 shook the world in 2020, disrupting many businesses worldwide, including Upendo's.“Everything came to a stop at the start of the pandemic,” said Upendo Mwalongo.
“We could no longer cater for any events because the Government banned all the gatherings, so we were stuck at home, which is when I came up with the idea of farming,” she said.
Upendo began with a two-hectare organic vegetable farm selling the vegetables either online or through home delivery under the name Open Kitchen GENGE.
She went so far as to offer ready-to-cook vegetables, that were harvested, washed, packed and delivered to her customers, who would simply cooked and ate them, saving them time in the kitchen.
Open Kitchen GENGE employs four people (two men and 2 women) and occasionally four male casual workers.
Green spinach, baby spinach, Figiri (Fig), Msusa (pumpkin leaves), cassava leaves, pumpkin leaves, okra, eggplant, sweet chilly cucumber, and other organic vegetables are commonly grown.
As a national nutrition champion, Upendo guarantees to sell vegetables that are 100 percent organic and pesticide-free.
The online platforms (Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp) are not only profitable and cost-effective, but are simple to manage and less risky.
Using e-commerce systems, Upendo managed to sell vegetable during pandemic. Open Kitchen GENGE has a daily revenue of Sh250,000, and monthly revenue of three million.
The company is growing, and Upendo hopes to expand during and after COVID 19 Pandemic.
"As we celebrate World Food Safety Day, I would like to remind all Tanzanians to teach their children about gardening or farming so that they can learn about the origins of their food and start eating healthy at a young age."
The author is a Nutrition Champion of "Lishe Bora Ni Mtaji" campaign