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Businesswoman breaks ‘glass ceiling’

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Sizamile Gumbo (40) is an entrepreneur who exudes the aura of success. Her laid-back nature, however, belies the aggression which has seen her — apart from running an exclusive, upmarket restaurant in the heart of Bulawayo — spreading out her wings into agro-business.

The ace up her sleeve, she said, was the ability to identify a need and then meet it.

This has made her one of the businesswomen who have successfully charted their course through the murky waters of a business world dominated by male sharks.

“I go to the rural areas to buy agricultural produce for resale in cities and other rural areas which may not have that particular produce, where there are people who need it,” said Gumbo, the founder and chief executive officer of Poredum Investments.

Most of the produce she buys and sells includes maize, groundnuts, cow peas, sugar beans and soya beans in far-flung places like Mhondoro, Mhangura and Gokwe.

Occasionally, she said, she also bought and sold fresh produce such as tomatoes, eggs and vegetables as well as chickens from farmers around town.

She said that she, just like other agro-dealers, had capitalised on the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) cash squeeze to effectively penetrate a market where farmers would rather deal with cash-rich dealers.

“Maize is scarce and GMB doesn’t have the product in stock, so this has worked to our advantage,” she said. “Some people need maize so desperately that they are prepared to trade their cattle for the maize, but sometimes I think it’s not fair.”

Gumbo, who retired from a leading commercial bank in 2003, opened her restaurant in April 2004 and owing to its modus operandi, she became deeply involved in the business of acquiring different food products for the restaurant.

“In the course of my work, I realised that there were markets that needed to be invaded,” she said. This saw her venture into agro-business.

She said although the business line was financially taxing, it was very viable if one had the monetary muscle to bulldoze their way through.

She observed that it was such a hyper-active arena that one could not play solitaire and win which has seen her engage a number of “runners” who are always on the ground, buying and supplying products in demand at the time.

She said she had flexible payment regimes with the farmers, depending on the time of the season. “We can actually do barter trading with them whereby you exchange grain with groceries, especially when they are still harvesting crops,” she said.

She said she secured a lucrative contract with the Zimbabwe Prison Service (ZPS) and this was like her jackpot.

This has meant that sometimes she could not barter trade because she would need huge quantities of produce.

“The ZPS normally requires huge quantities of produce. They give us a delivery note with the date on which we are supposed to deliver produce and sometimes you can’t do barter trading so we have to use cash,” she said.

In August this year, she secured a $25 000 loan from Micro-King Finance under a USAid and Zimbabwe Agricultural Income Economic Development-funded AgriTrade commercial lending facility extended to smallholder farmers, rural traders and retailers this year to ease their operational challenges.

“Because of this loan,” Gumbo said, “we managed to get our orders for ZPS and buy maize for resale. We sell maize on a cash basis.

We are also helping small-holder farmers because we go where they are to buy their crops so they don’t have to worry about transport. Now we are getting into the rainy season and the chances of being caught in the rain are high, as is the risk of losing their crop.”

She said while many people did more barter trading, a lot of farmers wanted cash, particularly when they want to raise money for their children’s school fees and other such needs like taking their maize to the grinding meal.

“We give real money — $200 for a tonne of maize,” she said.

GMB, however, is buying the maize at $285 per tonne, but most farmers have complained about the other challenges incurred in getting the maize to the parastatal — like using their own transport and buying packaging — and this has made private buyers’ prices more attractive.

The loan she secured will be repaid in four months at 24% interest, which is also likely to go down to 11%, and Gumbo said it was a viable arrangement because business was “very good”.

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