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Supporting good causes across the world with TOMRA and Practical Action

In line with other contributions made by TOMRA Sorting Solutions in 2016, TOMRA Sorting Food was once again happy to make a charitable donation to the marula nut processing project in Zimbabwe and the quinoa processing project in Bolivia during the 2016 holiday season. Both projects are supported by Practical Action, a NGO that works with communities to find practical solutions to poverty in developing countries.

08 March 2017

Marula nut processing in Zimbabwe

Like many communities across Zimbabwe, the residents of Bulilima depend on agriculture to make a living. However, in recent years the 17,000 smallholder farmers in the district, the majority of whom are women, have been battling with the twin pressures of erratic rainfall and the outward migration of young men to find work.

For these reasons, the women have turned to the one key resource they have in abundance - the marula nut - as a means to increase their income. The oil extracted gets a good price on the market and it has numerous uses, both in the food and cosmetics industries. However, the traditional means of cracking the nut by hand is both back- and finger-breaking work, resulting in 90 percent of the crop going to waste. Even when the oil has been extracted, its quality is compromised by the tendency of communities to soak the nuts before cracking them, as well as by the long storage periods before processing.

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To solve these problems, Practical Action, supported by TOMRA, has developed a new electric-powered processor, in collaboration with Zimbabwe’s national technology centre. The processor - a modified version of an earlier machine – delivers more effective grading of the material, higher yields and enhanced safety features.

Early results and feedback from users has been encouraging. The volume of processed oil has increased and work is ongoing to support the community groups to sell to new markets. Even in the short term, improved incomes have allowed community members both to pay their school fees and buy more livestock. The project team will continue to make adjustments to the machine in 2017 to improve its performance and then roll out the delivery of more machines to other community groups across the district. Discover in this video how our support and local teamwork improved the quality of life for the residents of the Bulilima district.

Quinoa processing in Bolivia

Growing demand for quinoa has led to many small-scale farmers in Bolivia having to abandon potato cultivation in favour of grain. The focus on a single crop has brought a huge surplus of produce, but declining prices.

In partnership with Practical Action, the women’s association of Waldo Ballivian decided to add value to raw quinoa by turning it into energy bars. They mix the tiny spheres of the Andean staple with coconut, peanuts and sugar syrup, before pressing and cooking them. Some are left as they are when they emerge, whilst others are half-dipped in Bolivian chocolate. After being packaged and sealed, the 800 energy bars they produce each day await distribution. A quarter will end up at an exclusive gym in La Paz where they sell for five bolivianos (about $0.72 or €0.68 each), whereas others will provide breakfast for local children. The rest will be sold at a discount to local shops and families, or swapped for the milk, yogurt and cheese processed by a nearby dairy co-operative.

Although they are still struggling to get their products to the market in sufficient numbers, the women believe that with further investment the business will continue to grow. The current premises on the outskirts of town is only temporary and Practical Action, with support from TOMRA, is helping the association to construct an approved purpose-built factory, to comply with health and safety standards. When they move to a new facility the women expect to see a rise in sales, reflecting their confidence and pride in the business. As well as providing an income, the business has given the women more independence and a greater role within the community.

Eduarda Ortega Tambo, 27, who has three children, prefers making cereal bars to the back-breaking, knee-shredding work of harvesting their main ingredient.

She explains: “We would be in the fields every day. We used to have to crawl along the earth to sow it and thresh it by hand. We would all work and thresh all morning and return home in the afternoon. And then I used to have to look after the children.”

But the fruit of their labours was, quite literally, chicken feed; with more quinoa than they could use, the surplus was fed to their livestock. Ortega now uses the extra money she earns from the bars to buy more fruit and vegetables for her children. She hopes that the benefits of having the factory - in which the bars are mixed and baked - will extend beyond the economic and nutritional.

Eduarda concludes: “It makes me feel like I am helping my children to have better opportunities and better conditions in their lives.”