How it all began
It was January 2012. Hanne and Rob were visiting Zimbabwe for the first time together, travelling around the country, spending some days in Gweru, a small town in the center of the country. We were walking around the local market in the midday heat picking fresh food for dinner when Rob all of a sudden stopped in front of one of the vendors and said, “You have to try this fruit! And bought two baobab fruits.
The next day he cracked them open and poured some powder to our breakfast yoghurt. This ivory colored powder tasted a bit tart, kind of like lemon or lime but not as bitter. Rob explained that local people mainly suck the powder covered seeds and the powder is used in simple ways with cooking. She wondered if she’d seen baobab sold anywhere in Europe. “We should do something with this”, Hanne said.
We went back to Zimbabwe twice within the next two years. On our third trip in autumn 2013, over a lunch discussion in Harare, we told a friend we were considering starting a business focused on under-utilized, native and wild plants – specifically nutritionally rich ones and preferably organic.
We wanted baobab to be our first focus but starting a company in Zimbabwe is not only impossible for non-citizens, it would have required resources beyond our reach. But almost like a miracle Jen said, “Our NGO used to have a baobab project which is now run by another NGO. I know the director, you should go and see him and present your idea.”
In a few days time we were on our way to Birchenough Bridge, an area in Eastern Zimbabwe, close to Mozambique to meet Dominic. He is a gentleman who runs the operations of Organic Africa, one of our co-operating partners. After one afternoon with Dominic seeing the operations, understanding how and by whom the fruit is picked and processed and getting verifications that not only is the company paying decent salaries to its employees and has eco-certified products, they’d be more than happy to be our provider for organic baobab. It felt like that the whole trip was no coincidence – it was the beginning of Pona.