“We have had clients from as far as England, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana and they really like the phane worms. People are talking about snack protein, and we are part of that revolution, food security, healthy sources of protein, going green, revolutionising the food industry by providing an alternative source of protein”
Youthful entrepreneur, Desmond Munyadzwe has ventured into the business of commercializing the traditional phane worm and even started breeding it in a controlled environment to have it available all year round.
Munyadzwe said in his phane business, he is focused on two main activities which are research and product development, in addition to processing and manufacturing. He explained that in the research and product development department, they work with researchers and research institutions like BIUST to develop a breeding farm and control its breeding to ensure availability throughout the year.
The project is well advanced though it cannot be rolled out on a large scale due to limitations like availability of literature on the subject and start-up capital, which has forced them to remain a small scale operation. “We have to do desk top studies and experiments. That doesn’t translate into tangible products instantly. We have to find out how phane lives, its anatomy, what really interests phane when it comes to feeding. If we can find alternative feeding, the kind of moisture it can survive in and at the end of the day find out how we can duplicate it and reach an optimum condition for rearing phane,” Munyadzwe explained.
The youthful entrepreneur said in their processing and manufacturing department they process the worm into different phane snacks. Phane snacks are processed organically, and crushed into chips and stocks and spiced for different flavors. Munyadzwe revealed that they used to prepare a phane stew but discontinued it after they suffered huge losses because it was hard to source quality containers to preserve it for longer periods.
Munyadzwe said though they do not currently have investors on board, their business sought to empower the communities that they operate in by ensuring that their suppliers view themselves as business partners who have a sustainable income. He reiterated that they work closely with local communities to maintain a steady supply of phane worms to benefit from the commercialization of phane.
“Our business model is termed echo inclusive, it is not just about the environment but also about the people. Some of the investors that you would realise in the near future are from the local communities that we operate in. Our business model allows that just an ordinary person to contribute to our processes in the form of investment not only as employees. They can offer land, they can harvest and offer us the product as suppliers. We do it in such a way that they are our partners,” he said, explain the model they have adopted.
Munyadzwe explained that domesticating and breeding of phane in house will be driven by harvesters who are already operational, adding that his aim is to eventually graduate harvesters into breeders. He believes that because the phane worm is abundantly available and can survive in harsh climatic conditions, Batswana can build an economy around phane processing.
He admitted that they suffered some loses at the beginning of 2021 but kept going and resorted to reducing their scale of production after they secured deals to supply chain stores with their product but failed to execute it due to lack of funding. With the many challenges they face, Munyadzwe remains hopeful as he believes their phane products will be on many shelves across the country soon. He emphasized that people have accepted their product even across borders. “We have had clients from as far as England, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana and they really like them. It is people who are familiar with the product though and it is not on a large scale. We are so hopeful. People are talking about snack protein, and we are part of that revolution, food security, healthy sources of protein, going green, revolutionizing the food industry, by providing an alternative source of protein,” he added.
Asked whether she thought commercializing phane was a business she would venture into, Kuda Mathole -a seasoned phane harvester in Zwenshambe said harvesting and selling phane worms has proven to be a lucrative business on its own as it costs next to nothing to harvest. She further added that she has observed that locals prefer to consume phane the traditional way, therefore she did not see the need to commercialize it. “Phane harvesting is very profitable because we do not spend much on it, though it is very time consuming. When we are out in the bush harvesting, we do not need to buy firewood to cook it, we just collect it from the bush. We only spend less than P50 on salt,” she said, adding that harvesting phane does not have challenges except when it is cloudy or rainy which prevents quick drying of the worms which could lead to rotting.
She revealed that she sells a 50kg bag of phane at around P1500 and P2000 and she only spends on buying salt during harvesting. Mathole said she felt that the use of permits to harvest phane is unnecessary because experienced phane harvesters know not to harvest all the phane in the bush to allow it to continue breeding.
Tebogo Nametsegang, a local entrepreneur based in Tonota has been in the industry longer and even had packaged branded phane worm products in nine fuelling stations in Tonota and Francistown. He said commercialising phane has been a big challenge because it is abundant and the market is used to consuming it the traditional way.
He revealed that though he has not completely written off the branded phane worm products because they were slow moving, he had however resorted to taking the product off shelves and only supplying it as and when there is interest from individual clients. “I am not going to spend much time on the project, only as and when we get interest is when we put out the product. It takes more out of you than it is giving you. There is no value addition, I spend a lot of money when I do it and no one wants to spend money on it because it is highly abundant. The question becomes is the market ready to consume the product? No, because the market is already consuming the product in a traditional way and they feel satisfied,” he said.
Nametsegang said commercialising phane is difficult because the market is already saturated, adding that he believes the product could perform better if it is exported. Another challenge is that a lot of the consumers prefer to buy it from harvesters as they felt that packaging it and branding it was taking it away from the traditional harvesters. He noted that just as much as Batswana flock for delicacies from other countries because of how they are branded and presented to the world, phane will be viewed the same way by other nations and for that to happen is for locals to embrace it first.