Justina Opit gathered the ingredients she had in her kitchen and put them in her blender. She pressed the “ON” switch and hoped her homemade solution would solve her problem.
Justina needed to find food for her son to eat that was accessible to her and healthy for him. Living in Zambia, she knew that she wasn’t alone in her struggle.
Today, Zambia has one of the highest rates of malnutrition and stunting in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to USAID. Malnutrition in childhood and pregnancy has many adverse consequences for child survival and long-term well-being. In addition, malnutrition can impact a country’s economic productivity and national development.
While living under these circumstances, Justina saw she had to take action for the wellbeing of her young son. It was this proactiveness that put her on the path to becoming an entrepreneur.
“I realized that I was not the only one looking for nutrition,” Justina says. “There are a lot of people out here who are asking the same questions I had. And out of those questions, Omega Foods was born.”
A Woman-Led Business Begins
When Justina first started Omega Foods, she didn’t think it would become a business. “I was just looking for nutrition for my family,” she says. “Out of that, I realized that there are more people who are looking, just like I was. I just happened to be the answer for them.”
After creating a recipe that yielded food her son loved, she began selling it to her friends and a handful of local stores. After positive reception there, Justina launched Omega Foods Zambia Limited in 2015.
The company started as a grain and flour miller to provide nutritious foods for families throughout Zambia. Today, the agro-processing company, has grown to include ten employees, and seeks to protect, promote, and enhance the health of local communities by supplying nutritious local foods.
Combating Bias Through Business
Justina’s curiosity and ability to see a great opportunity propelled her to success, but she still couldn’t avoid the pitfalls faced by so many women who pursue entrepreneurship. According to the World Bank, only one in three businesses were owned by women globally in 2020. And in low-income countries, only one in four businesses had any women owners.
“There are a lot of biases, especially being a woman in business,” Justina says.
Women also face greater challenges in accessing financial accounts and services than men. Apart from North America, the number of women worldwide with access to a financial account is lower than that of men. And in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa region, less than 40% of women have a financial account.
“When I want to grow my business, I go to the bank to ask for a facility,” says Justina. “They’re asking me for collateral. But I don’t have it because I don’t own land. It wasn’t only me that was like this – most women were like this.”
How a Partnership with TechnoServe Filled the Gap
Justina knew she needed help to make her business competitive. The Alliance for Inclusive and Nutritious Food Processing (AINFP) fulfilled that need. AINFP, a partnership between USAID, TechnoServe, and Partners in Food Solutions, aims to create a more competitive food processing sector. The partnership leverages the power of business to create better nutritional outcomes for low-income consumers and produce more profitable market opportunities for local farmers.
Through AINFP, Omega Foods has received support on business-management topics, designing its processing plant in Chongwe, accessing finance, procuring equipment, implementing good manufacturing processes, and developing new products, like a high-protein instant soya blend.
“TechnoServe, USAID, and Partners in Food Solutions have had a really great impact on our business,” Justina says.
Moving forward, she envisions her business becoming a nutrition hub not just for Zambia, but for the entire East Southern African region. “We believe that we are not landlocked. We are ‘land-linked.’ Zambia is very rich. Whatever you throw in the ground will grow,” says Justina. “I look forward to impacting a lot of smallholder farmers that are going to be growing grains for us.”
Giving Purpose to Women Through Business
Beyond the confidence and purpose that Justina has gained, she has also become an inspiration for people like her daughter, who wishes to one day study medicine and open a hospital for those in need.
“It is important for women to know that we can inspire people in different ways and not just by speaking,” says Justina. “We inspire them by just looking at what we are doing.”
Justina has big plans to continue this in the future; in the next five years, she plans on working and collaborating with partners across Zambia. She also understands the power of seizing opportunities wherever possible.
“Opportunities don’t come from very far. Opportunities are around us,” Justina says. “You just have to look a little closer.”