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Hunger inspires creative trio to put bread on table

Londiwe Dlomo Journalist
Nzomela is well-packaged and neatly branded.
Nzomela is well-packaged and neatly branded.

The simple act of eating homemade bread sparked the idea for an enterprise for Jabulani Ngwenya and his business partners.

The trio went from making bread to stave off hunger while working in their home office to help small-scale farmers, to selling herb bread.

Nzomela Herbal Bread was born in Soweto and aims to provide, healthy and scrumptious bread to residents.

In 2018, 34-year-old Ngwenya and business partners Michelle Kekana, a chef, and Bulelani Williams, an architectural draughtsmen, set up a design office to help small-scale farmers with landscape design, branding and technological services.

They provided these services for free as the community farmers do not have cash to pay for such specialised projects.

"Nzomela is the local slang word for bread; we used a colloquial name so that the bread is familiar to the community because the name is very popular on its own.

"When you send a child to go buy bread, you say 'hamba uyothenga inzomela', and the child will know they must go buy bread. We're trying to embrace our local lingos," he says

Unfortunately, during the times they worked without income they would be short on cash so they decided to cut costs by making bread for lunch.

"We needed sustenance in the office, we didn't know what to do but we needed lunch. So we started baking bread for lunch but we realised that it wasn't as nutritious as we wanted.

"And since we were in contact with a lot of farmers, we thought it would be a great idea to infuse some of the herbs they planted with the bread we made. It tasted good and we realised that it could work as a product," he says.

Ngwenya says they use medicinal and culinary herbs such as rosemary, geranium and parsley or a mix of herbs.

 The bread comes in the shape of panini mini-loaves, which sell for R10 locally but the price can rise to R20 a loaf outside Soweto, due to transport costs. In Soweto they deliver the bread via bicycle.

Ngwenya and his partners get their herbs from small-scale farmers that are part of a forum called Izindaba Zokudla, which meets regularly at the University of Johannesburg's Soweto Campus.

"Most of the farmers on the forum grow their greens in their backyards, at schools and some use open land near their homes. We work with local farmers, so as long as you grow herbs we will come and buy from you. Our aim is to mobilise the local economy in the township. So we want to utilise as much as possible."

Ngwenya is an interior designer and architect by profession. He says their target market is health-conscious individuals. They use unbleached flour (a flour with coarser texture) made from rye, spelt and sorghum. Apart from the cereals, the team also use chickpea flour.

One of their challenges was getting their bread to the SA Bureau of Standards. In the meantime, they work with UJ in a programme that assists small businesses.

Part of the programme is testing products and also setting up solar bakeries which Ngwenya and team hope to get off the ground soon. The programme is run by UJ's engineering department.

Ngwenya says his bread goes well will homemade condiments, such as jams and flavoured butters. He highly recommends having the bread with avocado and other greens as well.

"You only need two slices and it will last you the whole day, it's very nutritious.

"The whole aim is to provide good clean food to the people."

The business is not yet making enough income but the trio believes they are laying a solid foundation.

"Financially it's still a bit of a struggle; most people still don't understand what we're doing. But it is a business worth taking the risk for.

"We're hoping that Nzomela will make us financially stable so that we can go ahead with more ideas, products and projects like this one."

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