Welcome to Malawi.
Cocoa is not a major cash crop here. We export around 12 tons of cocoa beans annually while importing 1.4 million USD worth of cocoa products, including chocolate.
But that story is shifting now. A young, ambitious woman appeared on the scene and is turning Malawian cocoa into a big thing. Here is the story of Wezi Mzumara, founder of the only Malawian craft-chocolate company.
Leaving the UK
Wezi moved to England for studies and, in 2009, she earned a BA in Media, Culture, and Communications. The Ethiopia-born Malawian was set on a PR and Event Management career path in UK’s fashion and entertainment industry.
But in that same 2009, the UK was struck by an economic recession. Unemployment shot up and full-time jobs were extremely hard to come by. One part-time job after the other was how the London-based woman in her early twenties could make ends meet.
2011 came, but recovery from the recession wasn’t complete. What does she do?
After some reflection, Wezi made a choice to return home. Unknown to her, a cocoa adventure patiently awaited her.
Mzuzu, Malawi’s third largest city where our heroine lives with her family, is an hour’s drive from the clear waters of Lake Malawi. Right after she arrived, she saw a gap to explore with her expertise and founded Kwanza PR, one of the top Marketing agencies in Malawi.
You could say Wezi was already settled as a big name in Malawi’s Marketing and Events industry. But we have just begun the story.
Starting Malawi’s Biggest Cocoa Farm
Around when she returned home, Wezi’s parents had begun farming a family land. They encouraged their daughter into agric. “You need to farm something,” her mother said. But Wezi thought “the options were limited to maize, tobacco, soya…the most common crops Malawians grow.” None of them made her feel butterflies in her stomach.
Then, she found about 10 cocoa plants on one of the lands. “This is interesting,” she thought and returned to her fun-filled schedule. Not really excited about farming cocoa.
But when 2013 came “I was like let me try some more seedlings.” So, a Tanzanian family friend brought her some fresh pods whose beans she nursed and planted. Just like that, cocoa had slipped into a side-hustle position, and while the crops grew, the new farmer grew her PR and Events business, co-founding Mzuzu Fashion Week, Malawi’s only.
It seems our heroine wasn’t satisfied with the number of cocoa trees on her small farm. So in 2017, she drove with her dad to Tanzania for 1000 more seedlings. (Not hundred, thousand. Three zeros.)
After a lot of hard work, 2020 brought Wezi her first cocoa harvest. “Initially, the plan was to plant cocoa, harvest the beans, sell the beans, make money, live life.”
But 2020, it turned out, had different plans for all of us.
Lockdowns, and Chocolate thoughts
Aside from a cocoa harvest for Wezi, 2020 brought COVID and the dreaded lockdowns.
“No events, fewer PR clients, fear all over the place. It was a year of reflection. I spent a lot of time on the farm, learned how to groom the trees properly, did a lot more research into cocoa as a plant, and began to understand it pretty much more in-depth.”
In one of the reflections, the question popped up.
“Why not try to make chocolate?”
I must say her decision was rather quick. Because Wezi started doing her research and, aiming to start a chocolate business, applied in February for a grant from the Tony Elumelu Foundation.
When Nigeria’s Eko Chocolate Show streamed live in April 2021, she was inspired to see Yemmies Chocolate and Uzo’s Loom Craft Chocolate exhibit. No time to waste, she linked up with them on Instagram and shared her desire to make chocolate.
Three months later, Wezi had her chocolate-making baptism, an experience she would never forget.
First Chocolate-Making Experience
Like Uzo, she had fantasized about making chocolate while having none of the machines required. But, as fate would have it, she found an $80 wet grinder. “$80 was too expensive for her at the time”, but believing in her dream, her parents helped her get it, and on the 21st of July 2021, she started her grinder for the first time. She was in for an experience!
“I didn’t know you needed cocoa butter. I was like ‘Let me try and make my first chocolate!’ So I put the nibs in, and it started grinding. The nibs were flying out. Things were flying out, the machine stopped.”
She had Uzo on WhatsApp “and on Instagram”: “I said ‘Uzo, this thing is not working! The things are not becoming liquidy. It’s still solid, what do I do?!’”
It was stressful: “I didn’t sleep at night, because obviously the background noise of the machine! And we were worried – this thing has to work for 24 hours plus. Is everything going to be okay? Is the power gonna go? What happens when the power goes? All of these things were going through my head the first time I was making chocolate.”
Finally, she made it:
“So we made the first batch. And because of the fermentation, it was bitter. We gave samples to a few friends to taste, and they all said it was bitter.”
The new chocolate maker had her first big chocolate-making lesson: “If beans are not fermented properly, obviously you’re not going to have a nice tasting final product.”
Starting the Cross Atlantic Chocolate Collective
In search of the right fermentation methods, Wezi met Solomon Nserako and Celvastine Njei who were also journeying towards value addition in cocoa in Uganda and Cameroon respectively. Gillian Goddard, founder of Suneaters Organics in Trinidad, also reached out on Instagram to learn about her chocolate-making journey.
Gillian was already on a mission to help cocoa farmers become chocolate makers. And her well-timed meeting with Wezi, Celvastine, Solomon, and later Uzo sparked the start of the Cross-Atlantic Chocolate Collective.
At first, it was virtual training sessions on chocolate-making, the perfect chance for Wezi to improve her craft. Then in August 2021, the collective’s first box was shipped, and it included a bar from Kwanza Cocoa, her craft chocolate company, also Malawi’s first.
Since then, Wezi Mzumara has been on course to put Malawi on the chocolate-making map. As founder and CEO of Kwanza Cocoa, she leads a team of 14 to produce cocoa and make craft chocolate with local ingredients Malawians love. She also hosts tasting sessions for her clients to learn about cocoa and enjoy a variety of bean-to-bar chocolate. Just recently, she was featured on DW’s Made For Minds series.
But, like many African cocoa stories, this one has just begun. Stay around for more updates on Wezi’s fascinating story. Follow her on Instagram @misswezwez. Order delicious Malawian chocolate from the Kwanza Cocoa Website.
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