How a Woman Left an Abusive Marriage and Created a Successful Business in Zambia

Ten years ago, Namukolo was unemployed and in an abusive marriage. Today, she is a successful entrepreneur supporting her family on her own.

In the capital of the Western Province of Zambia, 42-year-old Namukolo Judith Kaywala fetches water during the early hours of the morning. After getting back home, she sweeps her house and prepares breakfast for her three children. 

Her 11-year-old son then leaves the house with her so she can drop him off at his school. After they arrive, Namukolo proudly watches her son enter the school that she’s chosen for him. Having that choice simply wasn’t possible before.

Namukolo is a woman entrepreneur in Zambia, where her business, Najuka, produces cashew nuts and cashew butter. Her dreams today are big. “I hope to be the largest supplier of cashew nuts and cashew butter in Zambia and outside the country,” she says. But before she decided to pursue such large dreams, she had to start small. 

About 10 years ago, Namukolo was unemployed and in an abusive marriage. After using the equivalent of $30 to start her business, she then used an axe to split her cashew nuts by hand. “I had no machine,” she says. “I would roast them and sell them in bars and to taxi drivers.” 

Today, she’s able to make about $3,500 per month.  

Namukolo Judith Kaywala, a business owner in Zambia, holds a bag of her cashew nut product from her company, Najuka.

How an Unemployed Woman in Zambia Started Making $3,500 Per Month

Namukolo’s business is one of those supported by the Food Enterprises for a Developed Zambia (FED Zambia) program, a partnership between the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and TechnoServe, launched in March 2021. 

In Zambia, an estimated 1,500 food processors account for 60% of the country’s manufacturing output. Many businesses like Namukolo’s are small and informal. They face challenges with sourcing raw materials, manufacturing food products safely and efficiently, effectively marketing and distributing their goods, and accessing enough financing. The COVID-19 pandemic has also disrupted supply chains and heightened the challenges that food processors face, contributing to food security challenges in Zambia

Through the FED Zambia program, TechnoServe is supporting the food processing sector in Zambia by providing:

  • Customized technical assistance for 100 small and medium-sized food processing businesses, helping them to tackle their most critical challenges and limitations
  • Sector-wide trainings designed to promote best practices within the broader food processing ecosystem
  • In-kind grants to help food processors acquire certification, access equipment, and build stronger market connections

“With our help, she’s been able to get her packaging and records right. She has a better sense of her numbers,” says Bwile Musonda, the gender advisor for the FED Zambia program. “Her [record] books are in place. And we’ve also shown her opportunities like which markets she can possibly target or access to ensure she gets a better price for her very, very good product.”  

Employees of Najuka removing the skins from cashew nuts.

The TechnoServe team applies a gender lens to its work. It set out to ensure that women would own at least half the businesses receiving customized technical assistance, make up 50% of the attendees of the sector-wide trainings, and receive the same share of the in-kind grants. 

“I must say that we managed to do that,” says Bwile. “So far we’ve had 40 clients, and out of those, 10 are men, 10 are women, and the other 20 businesses were co-owned; a man and a woman run the business together.” Bwile’s role includes ensuring that women are able to take advantage of TechnoServe’s resources since she says women usually have a lot of challenges.

Gender-Based Violence in Zambia

While the status of women in Zambia has improved in recent years, obstacles for women still remain. More than a third of all women and girls in Zambia have experienced physical violence in their lives, and 17% of women have experienced sexual violence. The country faces some of the highest rates of reported gender-based violence in the world.

Namukolo, who is now divorced, was a woman affected by gender-based violence. “She was able to leave the abusive marriage because she has this income,” explains Bwile. “And she was also able to take her children to school. Not just any school, but a good school. She’s very, very proud of that because she knows that’s paving the way for a brighter future for her child.”

Additionally, Namukolo is now able to support other members of her family. She has a grandmother and aunts who are all looking up to her since she can now provide them with the means to complete necessary tasks. From buying food to visiting the hospital, Namukolo has given her family a better quality of life. 

In addition, Bwile notes that Namukolo’s confidence has increased since she began the training. “I think the members of her community look up to her as a thriving business woman,” says Bwile. 

The Bright Future of a Zambian Woman Entrepreneur

TechnoServe is still working with Namukolo to help her get her certification and a better facility. “She’s currently doing the processing in a mud structure. It’s a thatched roof with mud bricks,” says Bwile. “We’re still trying to get the funds in place to ensure she gets a better facility, which can enable her to get the much needed certification. Once she gets that, she can access bigger and better markets.” 

Namukolo’s life has certainly changed. She recently traveled to Zambia’s capital city, Lusaka, to exhibit her products at an annual agriculture and commercial show where she was scheduled to meet the country’s president so she could share her story. “I started my business in 2006,” says Namukolo. “Over time, I have been able to buy three second-hand manual machines and my business has grown.” Since starting her business, Namukolo has hired nine employees: five women and four men. 

When asked what she would like other women to know about the challenges of business, Namukolo replied, “You have to work hard and believe in yourself.”