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Cash on the nose in Tanzania

Female entrepreneurship

The group of Tanzanian entrepreneurs known as Mwasapro based in Mwanza hopes to produce sardines for large supermarkets in Dar es Salaam and other African cities. To make that possible they first need certification. The aim of the mission of PUM expert Johan de Visser was to provide the necessary support. Throughout his mission, he kept a diary.

Day 1

After a long journey, I arrived at the tiny Mwanza airfield in Tanzania. Outside, a group of five entrepreneurs were waiting to greet me enthusiastically. They straight away wanted a  group photograph, and their infectious cheerfulness soon made me forget how tired I was. This was my second visit to Tanzania. Seven years ago, I visited the country to provide music workshops to local artists. I never though I would be returning for fish from Lake Victoria. Over the next few weeks I would be delving into the world of sardines.

Day 3

The two entrepreneurs accompanying me today, Sylvia Dotto and Gratian Magana, were late arriving. Since they had no car they travelled to the city centre by bus. Once they had arrived, we visited the supermarket, that stocks the products from Mwasapro. Sylvia is the founder of Mwanza Sardines Processors Group, a group consisting of 20 entrepreneurs. None of them is on the payroll. We discussed the management of the company. Sylvia explained, “We know how much we sell and buy, and we divide up anything that is left over.”  I suppose it’s one way of doing business. The sardines are caught at night. Women then carry them to the drying racks in barrels filled to overflowing, on their heads. After three hours drying, the fish are fried in sunflower oil.

Day 6

Today, we set out at five o’clock in the morning, to check out the result. The supply of fish was poor, and to negotiate with the local fishermen, we had to stand knee deep in the lake’s water. It was complete chaos. In the afternoon, we visited the future processing unit. The group of entrepreneurs aims to produce for large supermarkets in Dar es Salaam and other African cities. To make that possible, they first need to obtain TFDA certification (Tanzania Food & Drug Authority). Certification itself  calls for controlled quality procedures and hygiene rules in the production of the sardines.  They had called in my assistance in obtaining certification. 

Day 8

‘The pieces of the puzzle have started to fall into place’

After a few days of field work, it was time for an initial evaluation with Sylvia and Gratian. I asked them about the biggest needs in terms of the production process, the nature of the TFDA standard and the precise financial situation. In the development plan I decided to use lots of explanatory photographs. Sylvia spoke no English and I felt it was vital that she thoroughly understood the intention of what I was saying, as well as receiving a direct translation of what I said, into Swahili. Increasingly, the pieces of the puzzle were falling into place. We then visited two businesses run by colleagues, that have been operating according to the TFDA standard for some time. In a local taxi, we travelled through the impressive landscape and had a great laugh discussing the unusual boulders that seemed to be lying around everywhere. 

Day 12

At the TFDA offices, we were provided with all the necessary details including checklists for the fish sector. Before I left, we had an opportunity to visit the Dutch embassy. They were able to give us some good tips, and put us in touch with a fish sector specialist in Nairobi. The two entrepreneurs were delighted to have been invited to attend the discussions. On the return journey, we purchased two sealing machines for packing the sardines. Until now the work had been done very haphazardly, using candles; these machines will be a huge boost to production. Over the next few months, financing and the implementation of the TFDA measures will be the most important action points for Mwasapro. During the two weeks of my visit I was able to make a real contribution as well as learning a great deal and enjoying myself tremendously.


Johan de Visser (58) is Manager Quality Development Healthy Food at Albert Heijn, and lives in Elst, Gelderland. He has occupied a variety of management positions at Albert Heijn in a career lasting more than 30 years. This was his third mission for PUM, having previously visited Albania and Ghana.