A Hobby Becomes a Business


This article was originally written by CNFA and published by Medium.

Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteer-supported Linga Fruit Wines — a Malawian agribusiness — finds its products on new store shelves in Scotland, England, and a major local supermarket.

Linga Fruit Wine has not always enjoyed international success. Before it became a real business, it started off as a hobby for the husband and wife team of Timothy and Margaret Ngwira.

The couple created their first wine using local Malawian fruit in 1978 and after 28 years of making wine for themselves and friends, an entrepreneurial spark prompted them to go into business.

Their winemaking had always supported the local community, since it relied on buying a variety of excess fruit of local farmers. This allowed them to produce both exotic wines — with white guava and jambula fruit — as well as more familiar fruit wines like strawberry and mulberry.

By reinventing Linga Fruit Wines as a business, there was a clear opportunity to have a more significant impact on local producers. With sufficient demand for its wines, a company would be able to provide these farmers with more stable incomes by purchasing more fruit.

Timothy and Margaret began to test demand by distributing their wines to local stores, hotels, farmers’ markets, trade fairs, and cooperatives. When their products received positive reviews from some of the local and international consumers in attendance, they tried their first real marketing campaign but saw limited success. They felt that they had hit a ceiling and the couple — determined as ever — set out to find help.

After several meetings at CNFA’s Farmer-to-Farmer field office in Malawi, Linga Fruit Wine developed a path forward that included U.S. volunteer assistance through the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program. The F2F program, which is implemented by CNFA in Southern Africa, aims to generate rapid, sustained economic growth in the agricultural sector through short-term technical assistance.

Based on the scope of work that came out of these meetings, CNFA recruited and deployed volunteer Jim Worstell to Malawi. Jim, a repeat volunteer from Arkansas. Jim, who was the Executive Director of the Delta Network for over 22 years, set out to assist in developing a strategic marketing plan for Linga Fruit Wine.

“It was a unique assignment because it was just two people, [on past assignments] I had over two hundred beneficiaries. But this was wonderful, [Timothy and Margaret] have so much devotion and excitement for their wine and community. You do not always get that much enthusiasm,” said Jim.

Jim worked with Timothy and Margaret for several weeks to envision what successfully expanding Linga Fruit Wine would look like. Ultimately, the group settled on a focus towards international market penetration because traditionally, Malawians only drink fruit wine on special occasions.

“They were extremely eager and knew that they needed to focus on marketing. They were ready to roll and push me to push them,” said Jim of the couple’s drive to succeed.

After ten months of following the strategies developed in coordination with Jim and Farmer-to-Farmer, Linga Fruit Wine is now being sold in new stores. It is sold in England through Africanos World, a shop in Manchester for about ten pounds per bottle, and the Scotland Malawi Partnership (SMP) - a non-profit that aims to foster links between the countries - has featured it in its recent “Buy Malawian” campaign. In applying some of these same strategies to domestic marketing, Linga Wines are now also sold at Shoprite, which is one of the biggest supermarket chains in Malawi.

Thanks to the Farmer-to-Farmer program, people from all over the world are now tasting the fruit wine of Malawi, sampling a bit of Malawian culture, and supporting entrepreneurs to create dependable income for communities of local farmers.

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