Sonia Paiva – Between patronage and business, the Eswatini model

Eswatini Swazi Kitchen manufactures natural products without coloring or preservatives, such as honey, jams, sauces… And exports them. An initiative led by Sonia Paiva Eswatini who is working to promote rural women in Swaziland.

“I oversee all the steps and assets in the plant: storage, shipping, customers and finance,” says Sonia Paiva Eswatini. “We export most of our products. Honey, jams, sauces, pickles, marmalades and other products from Swaziland, 100% natural. No coloring or preservatives,” stresses Sonia.

Sonia founded Eswatini Swazi Kitchen 25 years ago, in a country with a population of 1.2 million, 67% of whom live in rural areas. Originally an associative structure, it is now a fast-growing company with 30 employees, including 27 women.

“In Swaziland, polygamy, which is allowed and widespread, results in many women being abandoned and left destitute. However, Eswatini Swazi Kitchen, which mainly hires single mothers, provides training and education to its employees, with the concept of “transfer of acquired knowledge”. Thus, a trained woman pledges to train ten others to amplify the action. As a result, from the first 23 women involved, the structure now supports 300 producers directly and 700 indirectly and trains them in farm management.”

In accordance with the fair-trade model of ethics, the company makes sure that no child under 16 years of age ever works for its producers and promotes instead the employment of disabled people in the production of wooden spoons, so they can earn an income and be self-sufficient. Co-founder of the National Honey Council, with Eswatini Swazi Kitchen, Sonia has participated in the training of 900 beekeepers, an activity she recommends as an additional source of income for farmers. Ensuring them a market: she buys raw honey from more than 200 beekeepers at fair prices. Thanks to the diversity of its activities, Eswatini Swazi Kitchen exports to European countries, Canada and Australia, but only within fair trade structures.

Parallel to this activity, Sonia created The Woman Farmer Foundation, which supports more than 2000 women to date.

“The mandate of the Woman Farmer Foundation is to improve women’s incomes and promote sustainable living through agriculture. The foundation focuses on empowering women, especially those living in rural communities” says Sonia. “For example, over the past nine years, we have successfully launched the “Women Farmers’ Contest”, which has helped many women farmers improve their living standards and raise their social and economic status. It is also a common forum for exchanging practices, seeking funding, networking, seeking markets for their products, etc.

10% of Eswatini Swazi Kitchen’s profits are donated to the Foundation to support the development of women farmers. It provides a sustainable market for small and medium-sized women farmers developed as part of the Woman Farmer Foundation’s programs.

 “My wish is to make women grow financially, thanks to a sustainable source of income leading to better livelihoods and household food security. I stay true to the saying: “If you understand money, you understand business”. All women understand money and I strove to remove all the obstacles caused by illiteracy and I began offering entrepreneurship training in 2008. I have observed a net increase in the number of women attending ever since.”

Sonia has years of professional experience to thank for having developed such an astute business acumen. “I come from the business world, especially the car industry, where I managed the notorious Carson Motors in the city of Manzini (Swaziland) before moving on to the world of NGOs and the agroindustry.” Sonia now fully embraces the challenge and opportunities of e-commerce and e-marketing, to create competitive advantage and to reach intra-regional and global markets. She participated in the Second World Forum of Women In Africa (WIA) initiative in September 2018 in Marrakech. Chosen by the WIA Foundation to join Program 54, she hoped to “come back from this experience with the tools to strengthen women farmers’ export capacities.”