Fannie Gondwe: FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme Award Winner

Fannie Gondwe, a Lilongwe-based agro-dealer, emerged winner of the 2017 Female Biosciences Business (FemBioBiz) Acceleration Programme Award and will join other top African performers for the continental competition in Cape Town.

The mother of three developed a passion for farming at a very tender age as her father was a farm manager. He also had his own farm where they would help out as children during weekends. 

Proceeds from the farming business were the backbone of the eductaion and livelihood of Fannie and her nine siblings.

The cheerful, God fearing, hard working and result oriented Gondwe started small scale farming in 2004 while still in employment; and when she stopped working in 2014, she became a full time farmer/entrepreneur.

“I have a total farm land of 120 hectares and dimba land of 10 hectares at Santhe – Kasungu and Kanyerere – Lilongwe respectively. I registered my farming business in 2012 trading as Perisha Agro and Packaging Enterprise based in Likuni, Lilongwe. Basically, I am an agrodealer, I multiply seed crops and sell seeds on behalf of seed companies,” she narrates.

Among other crops, Gondwe multiplies Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP) vines with International Potato Centre (CIP); Cassava with Roots and Tubers with Chitedze Research Station; Groundnuts with Icrisat; Soya with Nasfam; Cowpeas with Mgomera Seed Company, Maize with SeedCo and she also multiplies fertiliser trees such as Tephrosia and Gliricidia whose buyers include Icraf, Total Land Care and Land Resource Centre.

She is also one of the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) selected by Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for a possible matching grant and links to the financial institutions for the production and processing of high quality cassava flour (HQCF), starch, and other products.

Gondwe with some of her sons

“The farming business I pitched during the Female BioSciences Business competition is OFSP, which has an enormous value proposition. OFSP is very nutritious, with Vitamin A and Carbohydrates; it’s a source of food and income; it favours almost all soils in Malawi; it’s disease and drought resistant; and it’s early maturing starting from three months,” she explains.

During the 2016/17 planting season, the loving and caring wife and mother who systematically balances personal, business and family life cultivated three hectares of OFSP vines and her buyers included CIP, Malawi Government through Aswap; FAO, and individuals. Government and NGOs buy the vines and distribute to local farmers across the country.

She is also currently supporting 18 women farmers in Kanyerere, Lilongwe by providing them with free clean vines ,and capacity building.

“I have also started growing OFSP tubers for processing to add more value, and in the 2017/18 season I will start contract farming with more women groups for processing and uplifting their socio-economic status,” says Gondwe who is also a 2017 Fellow of Graca Machel Trust – Women Creating Worth.

Without any qualifications in agriculture, it is clear that for the Liverpool Football Club fan, farming is purely a passion.

Nonetheless, she says her work experience with World Agro-Forestry Centre attributed to achieving her farming dreams. “Soon after joining the organisation in 2003, I started small scale farming in 2004 by intercropping maize with Tephrosia or Gliricidia and the results were amazing,” she says.

Apart from that, she was motivated into farming when she realised that accessing clean seeds is a challenge for most farmers. She joined the agro-dealing sector to assist government in scaling up clean seed production in the country.

It has not been smooth sailing to achieve all the success she does as a farmer. Challenges are there.

She has a tractor bought from China in 2014 but it has no implements. It needs a plough, ridger, harrow and riper. Furthermore, she has a small water pump (6.5 horsepower) and watering cans for irrigation, but then vine multiplication requires severe irrigation.

“Vine multiplication requires intensive irrigation to produce the vines throughout the year and unless I have a sustainable irrigation system preferably solar pump with its accessories, I fail to produce more vines in winter,” she says.

Additionally, she says markets for most farm produce including OFSP are becoming tougher each year. For instance, out of 17 000 bundles of OFSP vines that she expected to sell during the rainy season, she only managed to sell 9 000 at K700 per bundle, from January to March, due to lack of markets.

On winning the 2017 FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme Award, Gondwe says she felt honoured because all eight women in the final competition were excellent in articulating their business ideas.

“Malawi has rare talent in women entrepreneurs who can transform their family lives, communities and the entire nation.  I feel it is high time women started thinking and acting like billionaires and showcasing their potentials to the world.

“Entrepreneurship has no age limit. At 50, I have won an international award, which means it’s possible for everyone. As I continue with the programme, I feel I can do much better to win the final prize,” says Gondwe.

She says among other things, she will take the one week Boot Camp training in Pretoria, RSA very seriously as that’s the pillar of the main competition which will take place in Cape Town in September 2017. There is R250 000 (about K14 million) grant at stake at the continental competition.

Born on February 2, 1967 in a family of 10 children (five boys and five girls) the female agro-dealer grew up in the northern region of Malawi. She comes from Chidumayo Mhone Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mtwalo, Mzimba.

She went to primary schools at Elangeni, Nthungwa – Chikangawa and Mzuzu CCAP. She attained her Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) from Livingstonia Secondary School; Bachelors degree in Business Administration (BBA) from Cyprus University through Share World Open University; and a Masters degree in Business Administration (MBA) from East and Southern Africa Management Institute (Esami).

Currently, Gondwe is in her third year pursuing an online Doctorate degree in Business Administration (DBA) with Walden University in the United States of America (USA).

The FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme Award winner is married to Paul Gondwe from Mwazisi, Rumphi who works with Ministry of Labour in Lilongwe, and they are parents to three children.

She has worked with JSI-STAFH project (Usaid); Strategic Planning Unit (UNDP) within National Aids Control Program; Family Health International (Usaid) and she was last employed with International Centre for Research in AgroForestry (SADC-ICRAF) also known as World Agroforestry Centre from 2003 to 2014 as a regional finance and administration manager for the Southern Africa Region.

To the young girl out there, her advice is that education is the key to success. She notes that the old mindset that business is for the uneducated is no longer the case.

“If you aspire to be an entrepreneur,  you will need to develop your business plans including projecting your cash flow,  tracking your finances, monitoring and evaluating your businesses and presenting to investors for possible funding, among other things. If you have a passion or you want to take entrepreneurship as a career, don’t hesitate, come out now while you are still young and pursue your dreams. Be your own boss!” she advises.

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