By Tafara Mugwara
HARARE, July 14 (Xinhua) -- Inside his makeshift bakery in Epworth, a settlement in the south-eastern periphery of Zimbabwe's capital Harare, Herbert Zenda meticulously prepares a tray of dough and puts it in his self-made firewood-powered mud oven.
Zenda, a 46-year-old father of three, runs a bakery and sells baked products that cost less than half the price charged by conventional bakers.
Over the past seven years, Zenda has won the hearts of his customers who troop to his backyard store to purchase low-cost but high-quality baked goods that include bread, doughnuts, buns and twists.
Zenda said he started the bakery not only as a way to provide income for his family, but to also serve his community by providing affordable confectionary products as most families in the neighborhood live below the poverty line.
"The main purpose of my business is to help my community while at the same time providing for my family," he told Xinhua.
"Epworth is a low-income community and many people here cannot afford to buy a standard loaf of bread. So we decided to venture into this business so that we can offer a product that people can afford," he said.
Previously an informal settlement, Epworth is one of the poorest communities in Zimbabwe.
Getting food on the table every day can be an unimaginably difficult task for many families in the impoverished settlement, most of whom survive on vending, or doing menial jobs in the neighboring Hatfield and Waterfalls suburbs.
"Many people in Epworth live below the poverty datum line, it's full of poor people. Many people here do not have formal jobs, they survive on vending," he said.
"Most people who are formally employed as security guards, and they don't make much. Our business is a relief to the community, many people can now afford to put food on the table, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic," he said.
Zenda bemoaned the effects of the unstable local currency, adding that the hyper-inflationary environment in the country had negatively affected his business, making it impossible to make plans for the future.
"The major challenge we are facing now is inflation. Our prices are in Zimbabwean dollars, and as you know, the exchange rate can change anytime," he said.
"If the economy was stable I think we would have been on another level, but now we are surviving from hand to mouth," he said.
Like most small business owners in Zimbabwe, Zenda has not been spared by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
"Besides inflation, COVID-19 has also affected our operations. Revenues from our sales have dropped significantly. Most of the places that we used to supply our products, like small scale mining areas, are closed due to the pandemic," he said.
"Before the pandemic we could make more than 100 U.S. dollars per day, but now I think we are making about 30 dollars, which is far below what we used to make," he said.
"Another challenge is that our prices are a bit lower, so the returns aren't that much, but I am grateful to the community because I don't stress about how I am going to provide for my family given the depressed economic situation in our country," he said.
Zenda is one of many Zimbabweans who have heeded government calls to create home-grown initiatives to foster sustainable development in local communities.
Last year the government launched the Community Resilience Bakeries Program which aimed at improving the supply of bread at affordable prices to disadvantaged communities.
More than 3,000 community bakeries were established around the country as part of government efforts to increase the production of confectionary products at affordable prices.
Junet Banda, founder of Epworth based Yamuranai Association for Persons with Disabilities, said the benefits of such community-based initiatives are immense as they play an important role in employment creation and improving food security.
Banda said such initiatives provide an alternative for low-income households that cannot afford to buy a standard loaf of bread due to hyper-inflation in the country.
The price of bread has increased from two Zimbabwe dollars a loaf in January last year to over 75 dollars to date, adding more woes to consumers who are grappling with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The soaring price of bread, which is the second most consumed staple after maize meal, has forced many bakeries to scale down their production due to low demand as consumers resort to other cheaper alternatives such as rice and sweet potatoes. Enditem