Mark Hemsworth in Zambia
What does a cheese business in Canada have in common with a honey company in Zambia?
At first blush, the answer would seem to be nothing. But EWB volunteer Mark Hemsworth knows differently.
After graduating from the University of Waterloo, Mark spent four years running his family’s business – the Springbank Cheese Company in Calgary, Alta. Having been in the cheese business since 1960, the Hemsworth family knows a thing or two about the food industry and operating a successful small business. That knowledge was passed on to Mark, who is now using it – along with an interest in corporate social responsibility – to help improve the fortunes of 6,000 small-holder bee-keepers in southern Africa.
Those bee-keepers sell their products to Forest Fruits, a private and profit-making company in the northwestern province of Zambia. Somewhat larger than the size of Texas, Zambia is a landlocked, poverty-stricken country where the average person isn’t expected to live much beyond their 38th birthday.
Within this challenging context, Forest Fruits provides training, inputs, transportation, communication, processing, exporting and bottling. As such, the company offers critical support to rural farmers – helping them access far-away markets and enabling them to earn much-needed extra cash without making a large, upfront investment.
Mark has partnered with Forest Fruits for the duration of his EWB placement. “My passion for international development grew from the basic idea that I have more than I need and others don’t have enough to even sustain life,” he says.
During his overseas assignment, Mark had the opportunity to travel with the Forest Fruits team to visit the company’s entire bee-keeping contingent. Over a two-week period, the “training safari” took Mark to the far, remote corners of Zambia and through some 1,500 km of bush land.
Later, Mark took the lead in helping Forest Fruits complete construction of its honey-bottling factory. The goal of the plant was to diversity the markets to which Forest Fruits sells its products, enable the company to develop new products with the same farmers and pay a higher price for the honey it purchases.
When Mark arrived on-site, the facility was partially built. From there, his role was two-fold: assist with the conceptual design of the new facility, and procure and contract out the necessary activities to finish the building’s interior. Today, the Forest Fruits factory is in full operation, producing bottles of honey for sale in local and regional markets.