The College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) began its Alumni Talk series with a presentation by and conversation with alumnus Ms Tracy Vongai Mapfumo, the founder of healthy snack company Eny’s Treats, and cum laude Agricultural Plant Science graduate who expounded on what led her to start her company, named after her late mother, Eniya Dengu.
Mapfumo completed her Bachelor of Science and Honours degrees in Agricultural Plant Sciences at UKZN in 2015, achieving a cum laude result despite the death of her mother during her studies. She hoped to progress to master’s, however she was unable to get a study permit so devised an innovative plan for her future career using knowledge she had gained during her studies.
‘The [Agricultural Plant Sciences] programme at UKZN was quite robust and exposed me to vast opportunities in terms of research and field visits,’ she said.
‘I consider my story to be one of resilience, adaptation and innovation,’ said Mapfumo, as she related how she volunteered at a research organisation that promoted indigenous plants when she could not find suitable employment in Zimbabwe.
Progressing to a research assistant position with the organisation, where she is now a consultant, Mapfumo used the opportunity to extend her knowledge, and to engage with farmers in areas where major commercial crops do not thrive, requiring them to adapt and be resilient.
Hosting the event, Public Relations Officer in the CAES Ms Ntokozo Dladla highlighted the importance of developing skills not necessarily taught in the classroom.
Mapfumo drew attention to global phenomenas such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, increasing urbanisation and overconsumption of natural resources as examples of changes in the world essential to adapt to.
‘Establishing Eny’s Treats reminded me that when life throws curve balls, it’s resilience that determines whether we sink or swim,’ said Mapfumo.
The seed-based snack company, founded in October 2018, employs five young people, targets niche consumer groups, works with small-scale farmers to source ingredients, and makes use of natural sweeteners. It also co-operates with organisations to train rural women and youth on adding value to their natural food resources and building a viable business.
Mapfumo spoke about how seizing entrepreneurial opportunities for training young entrepreneurs helped her in launching her business and becoming an employer. She also highlighted that innovation was key to resilience.
‘From the entrepreneur’s point of view, innovation is when creativity meets the market. UKZN is top ranked for research, and if you’re a UKZN alumnus, it is something that you’re asked to think of – that your research, your innovation should end up on the market as a product or service, or make life better for communities.’
She encouraged other young scientists to use the scientific skills they have, and if they pursue entrepreneurship, to start small, and to keep learning.
Discussions covered how to include the less privileged in innovation, how to acquire business skills, how research could translate into business, how to apply one’s passion, what distinguishes an entrepreneur from someone who is self-employed, how to generate new ideas through research, how to build endurance, and how to seek out funding for business ideas.
Following her Alumni Talk appearance, Mapfumo also participated in The Root of the Science podcast with UKZN PhD candidate Ms Anne Chisa, and the Black Girl Scientist YouTube channel hosted by UKZN PhD candidate Ms Zakithi Mkhize.
Words: Christine Cuénod