Down at the foot of Mt. Mulanje, in Nkulambe EPA, Phalombe district in Malawi, is a group of women called Michesi Club. Thomu village where this group is located is frequently affected by floods. This group chose to multiply OFSP vines, but one particular variety- Zondeni has found favor among the club members. We have known that sweet potatoes are mostly eaten by boiling the roots. This is however not for Michesi. Not only do they eat roots, leaves and other processed products but strikingly important is that they take Porridge produced from it which is fondly called Thobwa la Zondeni.
After mapping the field of Michesi club, the chairperson of the group invited me in for a “drink from sweetpotatoes” as the driver interpreted to me the Chicewa invitation from Mrs. Flora Mukoko. I usually do not have problems eating in the farmer’s homes but this time I was abit hesitant. I could however read the disappointment from this enthusiastic woman. As if she was saying “Come and taste and tell everyone that we love this drink”
So, she won me and there we went to her home. There she comes with orange cups. She serves us the drink. Looking through it, it looked like
the familiar “Bushera” drink I have always taken from Sorghum in my home district in South- Western Uganda. The only difference is that it had that orange shade, and a little bit thicker than my usual Bushera. At this time, a sweet fruit smell is hitting my nostrils. I remembered at this time the “Esters” we learned in organic chemistry back in High school and by now, I am convinced that I can taste this drink.
Everybody enjoys Thobwa la Zondeni
I taste….. And, what a sweet drink! Everybody enjoys it including children. I begin to assume the biggest market for this drink can be found in young children and females because of its sweetness. I draw this conclusion from a “willingness to pay for Pinacle Bushera study- a study I conducted in 2011, when one company was introducing the pinnacle Bushera made from Sorghum and millet among the urban population in Uganda. In this study, results had revealed that Men were willing to pay for a relatively more fermented drink while females and children preferred the less fermented and thus sweeter drink.
I am however surprised of the response. Men actually prefer this drink than any other category and they are buying it seriously. To confirm this response, I ask some men around in the nearby trading centre. All of them first giggle before telling me that in addition to being sweet and having the ability to quench thirst; it increases their sexual performance, so they say. Mrs. Mukoko actually sells this drink in this local community and men are the main buyers. I asked further how much Mrs. Mukoko Sells a day. I am told a day, she sells about 30 bottles, each 0.5 liters. She sells each bottle at Malawian Kwacha 50 (USD 0.1). So this means that she earns about USD 3 per day from this drink. – Not bad!
No wonder, she is quick to tell me that the house was built from sweetpotatoes and she and her whole family has chosen to concentrate on only sweetpotato production and processing. From vine sales to root sales to Thobwa La Zondeni sales, I have no doubt of her building the house. No wonder, when I went to take the GPS coordinates; their 20+ son and the father were both helping her to weed the crop. It is a family business and the CEO is……. Mrs. Flora Mukoko!
Not only is Mrs. Mukoko Selling the drink. About other 15 women are doing this, and it is such a business in this village.
As I go to another DVM, I have no doubt that this drink can be accepted everywhere and it will be a quicker way of consuming this OFSP by all gender and all age categories. Dr. Tawanda may know better weather this Michesi Club can patent Thobwa La Zondeni drink!