Marlvin Chieza: When Life Serves You Lemons...

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Article by: bird story agency

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When COVID-19 hit Zimbabwe in 2020, the country went into lockdown. Marlvin Chieza was one of those who returned to his home in the countryside, with no income apparently, no future. That is until he noticed the apples lying around.

Marlvin Chieza, CEO of Nyanga Craft Cider, taking a picture with some of their products in the background. Photo Courtesy: Nyanga Craft Cider

By Enos Denhere, bird story agency

For someone who only began their business during the Covid lockdown, Marlvin Chieza certainly doesn't lack ambition.  

"My future goal is to get financing lending so that we can make a lot of products so that they can be found in every area of Zimbabwe and Africa before extending globally," said the three-years-in entrepreneur responsible for a brand new business that has become a runaway success.

"I was a rural boy until I got an opportunity from this end business, and now I live in Harare, the business generates thousands of dollars monthly, and our products range in price from 1 dollar 75 cents to 30 US dollars.  The majority of our clients are local neighbourhood hotels, restaurants, bars, and tourists," Chieza explained.

While Covid was tough for all business owners, it did offer opportunities for some budding entrepreneurs on the lookout for opportunities. Chieza was one.

When he went back home to Nyanga, in eastern Zimbabwe during the country's first lockdown, he immediately spotted the opportunity that was to transform his life.

''In my rural area, the place is in the mountains, and the temperature is always cool, which is why they call it mini-England. Nyanga is home to fruit trees such as apples, grapes, and many more,” Chieza shared.

The idea to turn the fruit into cider took root as Chieza waited out the lockdown.

"I could see many fallen apples on the ground in numerous plots while there was a high demand for ciders as bars, shops, and restaurants were closed, and that day I can fairly say Nyanga Ciders was created," he explained.

Before the pandemic, Chieza worked for the Rusape municipal council, in northeastern Zimbabwe.

''Before COVID-19, I was working in Rusape town. When the Zimbabwean government imposed mobility restrictions due to the pandemic in 2020, I had no choice but to return to my rural location in Nyanga,'' he said.

"I made use of my database of locals who frequented the neighbourhood shopping centre. I invited a friend of mine with a background in the food business to work with me. We used 2,000 (US) dollars to start. We had to buy bottles and the few inputs needed to kick-start our business, and today Nyanga Craft Cider has penetrated Zimbabwe and tourists from South Africa and the Netherlands order our beverages," he stated.

Bottles of Nyanga Craft Apple Jack on display. Photo Courtesy: Nyanga Craft Cider

Leveraging existing resources offered Chieza an advantage in the cider sector and increased its chances of success significantly.

"Entrepreneurship begins with what you have. Occasionally, the resources in your immediate surroundings can serve as a bridge to the business world. During the epidemic, I became interested in the cider industry and took advantage of the abundance of apples in my community,” Chieza highlighted.

Nyanga Craft Cider was a 2022 finalist of The Eagle's Nest Youth Export Incubator, a youth program offered by ZimTrade – a national trade development and promotion organisation.

''Nyanga Ciders was part of the ZimTrade Eagles Nest program, which is also a popular competition series on the ZimTrade YouTube website. The Eagles Nest is a youth empowerment initiative aimed to capacitate youth-owned firms for export," said Karen Mukwedeya from ZimTrade.

The initiative's goal is to assist new exporters by giving them access to mentorship opportunities, an idea-pitching platform, and operational support.

"Their program involvement enabled them to improve their business by improving their product packaging and equipment to match international standards," Mukwedeya shared.

ZimTrade trainers assist youth-led firms in exporting their products and selling goods or services abroad on a regular basis.

"The company performed so well that they were named an Eagles Nest Season 2 finalist," Mukwedeya said.

"With the continued backing of ZimTrade, they are now able to use trade exhibitions under our booth to present their products to worldwide consumers and build their business with the goal of exporting to both home and overseas markets,'' she added.

Thanks to their geographical location in an area popular with local and international tourists, the cidery regularly receives guests from Africa and around the world who taste their products, and learn about how they launched the Nyanga Craft Cider.

Marlvin Chieza pouring a bottle of Nyagar Craft strawberry cider into a glass. Photo Courtesy: Nyanga Craft Cider

"Our neighbourhood draws visitors from all around the world. A gentleman from South Africa came for tourism and shared Nyanga Craft Cider’s tale across the internet," Chieza shared. The tourist then went a step further and helped Chieza with a dream learning opportunity.

“He assisted me in connecting with a cider guru from the Netherlands, who sponsored me for a cider-making course in America in 2021. This course provided solutions to all of my questions that arose during my home fermentations. It provided me with the opportunity to learn from cider industry specialists and interact with other cider producers and cider makers who we do not have in Zimbabwe," Chieza disclosed.

Payne Farai Kupfuwa, CEO and Founder of Young Miners Foundation and who is now also a Nyanga Craft Cider customer, said he was thrilled at the outcome.

"I am pleased with how the Nyanga ciders have managed to break through the veil that many young people have in waiting for jobs rather than being a part of job development," he said.

Nyanga Craft Cider will soon be going into its fourth year of business.

"The cider business has turned my life around, and the demand for our products is so high that we are overwhelmed,” Chieza shared.

He has also given Nyanga farmers a chance to get income from their fruit trees. Nyanga Craft Cider currently employs five permanent and ten temporary workers.

"The cider business has not only turned my life around but the community as well, as we are working with 20 villagers to supply us with apples. I have 5 permanent employees and 10 on a temporary basis," he shared.

Despite the teething challenges of a new business, Chieza has his sights set high... his goal is to be a major player in the cider market not only in Zimbabwe but across Africa and even, internationally.

His is an instructive tale of what can be achieved when adversity strikes. As they say... 'when life serves you lemons, make lemonade'. Or in Chieza's case, 'make cider'.

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