Namibia is a country with much potential, however its overreliance on imports hamper its goals to establish economic independence – particularly when it comes to the food industry.
Creating momentum and awareness around local products and services is one strategy to sustainably recover and grow Namibia’s economy whilst navigating the significant challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, unemployment, poverty and inequality.
Recent efforts to buck the trend on imports such as the ‘GROW’ and ‘Buy Local, Grow Namibia’ campaigns yield encouraging results including growing public consciousness of Namibian products and services.
Making products that are “Made in Namibia” more attractive to the public starts by supporting local entrepreneurs such as Frieda Vatileni, better known as the Chilli Queen.
Vatileni owns the business, Chilli Queen, where she sells locally sourced chilli sauces such as “Chilli Lemon Herb”, “Wild Chilli Herb” and Chilli Cream”. Her products can perfectly accompany a traditional Namibian braai, or any other daily meal should you prefer a kick of spice.
Following years of practice and dedication to cooking, Vatileni started Chilli Queen in 2019. Initially selling her sauces in her neighbourhood – after some convincing from a friend – her creativity quickly developed into a fully-fledged business.
She first discovered her love and passion for cooking while growing up in Oranjemund. “I would host different people at our house on Sundays and prepare food for them”, she explains.
From only an exclusive group of friends and neighbours tasting Vatileni’s culinary creations, many more Namibians can now find Chilli Queen, across the country; from supermarkets, a butchery and a service station in Windhoek to towns such as Omuthiya and Outapi.
Despite starting her business on the eve of the coronavirus pandemic, Frieda managed to sustain and develop her brand throughout those trying times, making use of her creativity, energy and confidence.
“Every single day I look around and realize the need to create more Namibian-based companies so as to not be startled if we are to reach another lock-down of some sort in the future. It is important to buy and produce local so as to be able to sustain ourselves, as a country.”
Vatileni exemplifies how Namibian entrepreneurs are breaking new ground in the local market and producing idiosyncratic products where many could not imagine alternatives to foreign imports.
“We need to be more confident in ourselves, our produce and our Namibian-made products, as other countries are proud of their own. We can be as good, if not better than them.”
She believes that buying local products provides several benefits for Namibians beyond the macro-level of the economy.
“Buying local also reduces the distance that the product travels, keeps money in the Namibian community, supplies other local businesses and creates employment. It ensures holistic advantages with its contribution to the economy, the environment, the community and personal well-being”
Foundational to campaigns such as Buy Local, Grow Namibia, is the idea thatproud individuals sell Namibia to Namibians, a task that is impossible without personality, patriotism and creativity.
Currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Corporate and Marketing Communications, Vatileni carefully curates her Chilli Queen brand to reflect who she is as a person. While her passion and personality shines in her work as a business owner, Frieda also cherishes her roles as an identical twin, mother and Namibian.
Although Vatileni still has ambitions to grow Chilli Queen to a level where it competes with leading brands in the industry, there are aspects of her business she is unwilling to compromise on in the name of expansion. She insists on continuing to package as well as source her products and ingredients locally in addition to not adding sugar or preservatives to her recipes in future.
“Local produce offers us something different from the products we can buy in a big mainstream supermarket. Most of the time, locally grown and produced food is made with less shelf life enhancing additives and supports local growers.”
She sees expansion as an opportunity to reduce unemployment in Namibia, strengthen the value chain and contribute to wealth creation in the country. However, Vatileni acknowledges that growth also comes with its own set of challenges including advertising costs and funding.
With Chilli Queen Vatileni shows fellow Namibians that we are in the driver’s seat to making change in our lives and those of others, but her journey may be much hotter than others can handle.
“This feature is part of a UN Namibia series to highlight local goods or service providers in support of the Buy Local Grow Namibia campaign and who we believe are actively working toward the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The Buy Local, Grow Namibia campaign supports growth in the production and consumption of Namibian goods and services.”