Driving a Local Food Revolution
One Woman’s Inspiring Entrepreneurial Journey
There is truly power in humble beginnings. Upon being convinced that she wanted to start and own her own business, Sylvia Banda, one of Zambia’s most celebrated entrepreneurs took a leap of faith. She took some food from her home, a two plate cooker, and from a small room in a rented incubator program served her first customers who ate her meals while standing. A couple of decades later she had become the founder and director of Zambia’s Sylva Group of companies. The company has played a pioneering role in the promotion of local Zambian foods in local and international markets. Her group of businesses now operates in areas such as manufacturing and training, having also established a university which offers catering courses.
Sylvia’s inspiring journey began from a young age. As early as her teenage years she was about her entrepreneurial hustle. Thanks to her versatile mother who taught her skills such as cooking and sewing, Sylvia developed a penchant for making money. Using the cooking skills which she had learnt from her mother, Sylvia started making fritters which she would sell at her primary school. Later when she went to secondary school she would use her sewing skills to make custom made outfits which proved popular among her schoolmates. She capitalized on the fact that her school had a ball room dancing club. She kept a keen eye on fashion trends and taught herself to design trendy outfits. Later when she enrolled in college her entrepreneurial streak reemerged. During her college years she would prepare tasty and well prepared meals on days when her college cafeteria would not serve dishes which were popular with the students
Following her graduation from college she worked for three years with Zambia’s Ministry of Education before fully pursuing her entrepreneurial passion. She enrolled in an incubator program called Village Industries where she was given a room to operate her business. One the first day she set up a two plate cooker and the food which she had gotten from her house. Attracted to her cooking a group of people gathered to try her food and liked it. These were her first customers. And so was born her first company, Sylva Catering. She later formally resigned her fulltime job to pursue her business dream. Business continued to grow and in 1997 she opened Sylva Training College which provided catering courses up to diploma level. Later she opened Sylva University. In 2005, Sylvia opened Sylva Food Solutions which focuses on commercializing locally grown food. The company has developed a factory which produces a range of products such as dried pumpkin leaves, Moringa soup, cereal and mineral water. The company works with small holder farmers who are trained to supply the company with high quality inputs. Sylva Foods Solutions also empowers women by training them on how to dry vegetables and fruits and, in return buys and packages the products.
The company has trained farmers in ten provinces across Zambia who are supporting the factory by supplying vegetable and fruits. Driven by its commitment to promoting nutrition and local foods, the company has invested in solar drying technologies which are designed to preserve nutrients in food products. The company sells 20% of its products on the local markets whereas about 80% of sales come from export markets which include the US market. Sylvia’s desire is for Africa to have a complete mind set change. She ardently believes that, ‘Africans should respect and appreciate the consumption of tradition which God has given us