Mrs Umeeda Switlo of Naledo Belize Ltd Dishes On Her Company and Sustainable Living
by Carolyn Lee Jun 21, 2021
In 2015, Mrs Umeeda Switlo, a biologist and entrepreneur, visited Belize with the Canadian government to advise the Belizean Department of Youth Services (DYS) on youth and enterprise.
She fell in love with the country and wanted to make a difference. While travelling throughout Belize and teaching entrepreneurship, she saw the heirloom turmeric in Toledo and wrote a business plan for manufacturing it.
She completed her work with DYS and went back to Canada, only to return six months later to start Naledo Belize Limited.
Naledo Belize Limited is credited with creating the world’s first whole root turmeric paste. The company’s goals include creating a fair supply chain, empowering communities, and providing access to a sustainable livelihood.
Mrs Switlo and her daughter Nareena have taken what they dub as a “social enterprise” and used it to engage the youth and create job opportunities.
In this interview, the dynamic mother-daughter duo gives us some insight into their business and the impact that it has on communities in Belize.
You shared that you fell in love with Belize and the agricultural resources. What do you love most about the country?
I love the environment and diversity. I have many Belizean friends who are kind and caring and have shared their homes and ideas with me.
Tell us about Naledo Belize Limited.
We started in 2015 in Punta Gorda. All our products directly support small-scale growers. We make Truly Turmeric paste, mango pickle and turmeric juice blends. We also carry other products such as a turmeric face oil, turmeric soap and a cookbook, Mamajee’s Cookbook, which is packed with great recipes. Our most popular product is the 8 oz Truly Turmeric paste.
We are committed to providing delicious products that are healthy, sourced and produced sustainably, and we believe in empowering the communities that we serve.
This is reflected in every area of our business. Our slogan is “Better business, better lives” and in Belize, we say, “Me ma sai yella ginga is gud fa Ya. You betta believe she”. Turmeric is packed with great health benefits, and our products are made by capitalising on its benefits so we can enjoy healthier living.
What impact has your business had on the economy of Belize and its citizens?
We are working with over 300 small farmers in Toledo and have eight young people running our factory. We’ve also spent a lot on the development and training of our team.
We buy locally where possible and have a positive impact on the environment by ensuring that no pesticides or herbicides are used in growing our turmeric.
Our company participates in beach clean-ups, collaborates with the government, and helps to train new businesses through Beltraide and the Belize Chamber of Commerce.
One of the goals of your company was to create jobs and training for young people. How did you accomplish this?
I knew that the youth were vulnerable. I decided to base our company in Punta Gorda because there weren’t any meaningful jobs available there. We could have exported the turmeric root and processed it in Canada. However, we knew that to make the biggest impact and to add value, it had to be done in Belize. We train our team on business, food safety, science and much more. It has been challenging, but those who are eager to learn, stay.
Tell us about the Wildcrafted Turmeric Paste. What are some of the recipes that it would be great in?
Traditionally, almost all Indian food uses turmeric. In Belize, I started putting it on meats, poultry, and seafood in a marinate. It can be used in tortillas, smoothies, mango pickle; on eggs, escabeche, potato salad, and omelettes. It can also be used with oil to make salad dressing.
You also have the Truly Turmeric juice blend. What are some of the benefits associated with it?
We will be developing our juices in Belize for 2020. We made them delicious, and they have a shot of ginger and turmeric juice. Like the paste, turmeric helps with inflammation and is a strong antioxidant.
What is your relationship like with your team?
I really think good training is important. We value our team and treat them respectfully. We are culturally very inclusive, and I think this is good for young Belizeans. We take them on training days to the cays, to farms and to other parts of the country that they may never have seen. One member came with us to Canada and was with us on the CBC TV show Dragons’ Den.
We now have a Belizean manager David, who manages a team of eight people. Almost all our employees are under 30 years old, and for some, this is their first job. Our production manager, Belkis, has been with us since we started.
You have partnered with local growers in Belize. What has that relationship been like, and how do you sustain it?
Our growers are remarkably diverse. We have elders and youths. We like working with women very much. Our growers treat us so kindly, and I know we are making a difference in their lives. We consult with them and pay them immediately for their harvest.
Our company regularly monitors and evaluates our impact, so we get to know our growers and their families. We sustain our work by paying a fair price and treating our growers respectfully. We learn so much from them, and they always welcome us. We prefer to work with small growers.
What are you most proud of as a business?
Our products are exported to Canada and the USA. We are in over 1,500 stores in Canada, the USA and Belize. I love walking down the aisle and seeing our product and getting emails about how customers love it.
In Belize, I work with the team and our growers, and I see the impact of our work. It’s amazing what a small company can do to make a difference. I know Toledo is doing better because of all the work we have all put into Naledo. I was very happy when Circle R took on the Belizean distribution. Now, it’s available all over Belize.
*All images provided by U. Switlo.