During citrus season, Beitbridge Juicing Company (Pvt) Limited is a hive of activity with trucks offloading oranges at the offloading bay for processing at the plant.
But outside its core business, the company, located in Mabidi Village in Beitbridge District is bringing much-needed relief to the surrounding communities with its community-oriented projects.
From employment creation, water and sanitation, access to health, economic empowerment projects and others in the pipeline, the company is transforming the livelihoods of many in the area.
The company is not only providing employment to the Beitbridge communities but spread across provinces with over 2000 rural households benefiting under its fruit beneficiation programme.
Communities in Zaka, Mahusekwa, Mhondoro and Hwedza are among the beneficiaries of the project through the grove to glass strategy in the guava value chain. Under this project, parent company Schweppes Holdings Limited has engaged communities with abundance of guava forests to pick guava fruit for juice and jam production at BBJ.
Peter Ndou (63) who works at Luwade citrus farm that supplies oranges to BBJ says the company has been helpful to the community.
Ndou has lived in Beitbridge for 35 years.
“BBJ is doing a lot for the community. If by chance the company closes then we are broken as a community because they have workers from the community. “We can see a lot of changes here compared to prior to its opening in 2006,” said Ndou.
During its peak period, BBJ directly employs about 150 people and most of them from the local community. On a quarterly basis, the plant processes about 22 000 tonnes of oranges into concentrate for sale to other local companies and export market.
Relief for the community
BBJ has managed to address one of the major challenges in the area, water shortages for both household uses and livestock.
Beitbridge District in Matabeleland South Province is one of the driest areas in Zimbabwe falling under ecological region five. Despite this, the district is the largest producer of cattle in the country. But the region battles water shortages while vegetation for livestock can be limited due to moisture stress resulting in animal deaths.
The main water source, Mzingwane River, formerly known as Umzingwane is a major left-bank tributary of the Limpopo River is currently a bed of dry sand, with no sign of life, as if the rainy season skipped the region.
During the 2019/2020 agriculture season, over 21 000 cattle deaths were recorded in Matabeleland due to a drought that was regarded as the worst in almost four decades. Of the figure, 15 500 deaths were from Matabeleland South and Beitbridge District was the hardest hit area in the region, with over 5 000 cattle reported to have died. It was also estimated the figures could be more as some deaths went unreported according to the Department of Agricultural Technical and Extension Services (AGRITEX).
“This is Mzingwane River, the main source of water for the community,” indicated BBJ plant Engineer Michael Mashuro while driving across the dry river bed following a visit to the plant and nearby citrus farms.
But with assistance from BBJ, the community now has access to clean and safe drinking water after drilling boreholes for them in addition to tap water from the plant.
While BBJ does not have a clinic of its own, the company invites health experts every week and members of the community take advantage of these visits to access health care services for free. The nearest clinic is located in Tetengwa Village, which is about 30km away.
“BBJ also provides books for the local school which is helpful as it reduces pressure on parents here,” said Ndou.