From bright lights to blooms of protea

Business Reporter AS one popular saying goes, life begins at the end of our comfort zone. If you never dare to be great, you will always be mediocre. This is true of one ambitious woman, who had to sacrifice her lavish life and the bright city lights of Harare to pursue her passion in the […]

From bright lights to blooms of protea
Mrs Chinamasa now supplies protea to a wide range of florists in areas like Harare, Bulawayo and Victoria Falls

Business Reporter

AS one popular saying goes, life begins at the end of our comfort zone. If you never dare to be great, you will always be mediocre.

This is true of one ambitious woman, who had to sacrifice her lavish life and the bright city lights of Harare to pursue her passion in the outback of Nyanga, largely a farming community.

Out of determination, her initiative has grown into a thriving protea farming business in the Eastern Highlands. She had not been exposed to any kind of farming while growing up, but travelling opened her eyes to the opportunities in the floriculture business.

The sector had remained largely a preserve of people with deep pockets. Also known as sugarbushes, protea flowers are currently cultivated in over 20 countries.

Besides their use for aesthetic gratification, the flowers have long been used to clear chest disorders.

Syrup extract from its nectar, known as bossiestroop, is used in cough mixtures, while protea caffra is used to treat diarrhoea and bleeding stomach ulcers.

“I never saw myself as a farmer. Growing up, my parents never had a farm. Yes, here and there, during holidays, I would visit my grandparents in the village, but never in my mind did I imagine becoming a farmer.

“I didn’t even know that there were flowers called protea,” Mrs Lillian Chinamasa, the chief executive officer of Tangle Flora, said.

It was after recurrent visits to Nyanga for vacations around 2005 that a fairly young Chinamasa developed an interest in protea flower production.

“My husband and I used to stay at one of the hotels in Juliasdale. At this hotel, they had a florist who did flower arrangements for their reception area. She would strictly use protea flowers.”

Mrs Chinamasa said the florist spoke at length about how flowers in Nyanga were being grown by very few commercial farmers given that floriculture was regarded as an area for the elite.

Although she did not have any land to engage in floriculture, Mrs Chinamasa’s interest grew. More than ever, she became determined to start protea flower production. It did not matter if she had to start with only a few plants.

“That time, we did not have a farm in Nyanga, but fast forward to when we got the farm at the end of 2006 (aged 30 then), I approached the florist again, just trying to get more information on how I could grow these flowers.”

It was not exactly smooth when she started, as she had to juggle between her newly found farming interest and motherhood.

The children were still very young and needed close motherly attention. This was not the only problem. Just like many other startups, the business faced the challenge of lack of the requisite funding.

With support from her husband, Mrs Chinamasa used their family savings from formal employment to finance the floriculture business.

“Both my husband and I were formally employed when I started and we used the few resources available to buy our first protea seedlings. We then mastered the art of propagation by getting stems from our field, and we started our protea flowers nursery.”

The beginning was taxing.

Mrs Chinamasa ultimately became a full-time resident on the farm in 2018 after all her children had enrolled in boarding school. She threw the allure of comfort and the barriers of fear out the window, deciding to get her hands dirty in the farming arena full-time.

“When my kids were all now in boarding school, I decided to resign from work. I wanted this project to expand, so I knew that I had to give it more attention and that I had to be at the farm. I started staying full-time at the farm from the end of 2018 and six years later, I am a full-time farmer.”

Starting the flower business was not an easy task, as close acquaintances thought it was better for her to grow other horticultural products like potatoes or fruits given that Nyanga has good climatic conditions for the two.

“I remember most of our relatives asking: ‘Do we eat flowers?’ Most people did not understand why I had ventured into the flower business; they saw it better to grow food crops like potatoes,” she said.

Mrs Chinamasa, who was the best performer in ZimTrade’s 2023 edition of the Next She Exporter programme, has seen her enterprise grow in leaps and bounds. She now supplies the flower to a wide range of florists in areas like Harare, Bulawayo and Victoria Falls.

Her clients also include event planners.

Mrs Chinamasa used to export her flowers through an agent, but now wants to do it herself.

“I love it at the farm and I am proud of the progress we are making with my team. I currently have 13 different varieties of protea flowers here and we would like to grow them. It is not easy, but I am glad to say we are not where we were and definitely, we are going somewhere,” said Mrs Chinamasa.

She said her vision was to be among the black farmers who are known to be big exporters of flowers.

The businesswoman further said she would like her brand to be known in both the local and export markets.

“We used to export through agents but we temporarily stopped that, whilst we were working on our own licence, as well as our volumes.

“The plan is to do it ourselves and avoid going through other people or companies. We are currently having discussions with ZimTrade and some teams outside our borders.

“Hopefully, soon we will resume sending our flowers to export markets.”

She encouraged more local farmers to join the floriculture industry.

“I’m happy that gradually farmers are starting their little flower projects, it’s good progress, I must say. My wish is to see more local farmers come to join us in the floriculture industry.”

Mrs Chinamasa advised young and budding entrepreneurs to invest time in understanding the processes of whatever business they wish to venture into. She urged entrepreneurs to maintain a solid presence in their business for it to succeed.

“Your presence and involvement in your project are very important,” she said.

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