My name is Chanda Mutale I am a 30 year old Zambian Male, I work as a Relationship Manager in a Non Bank Financial Institution. Well, about my background, it’s a bit complicated, I have B.A in History for my first degree, I am a trained Banker and a recent Msc Economic History graduate. But to peel away the complication, I am a market gardener ( I sometimes find farmer to mean completely something else) in short I am an Agripreneur at heart.
My Cinderella Story
I have always loved farming, I wanted to study Agricultural Science at undergraduate but I was discouraged by most people around me. That did not discourage me from following my passion. I went on to start growing vegetables after I completed my studies. I have sold it all ; carrots, green beans, okra, rape, egg plants ( at times even carried the produce in small plastics in my back pack). I spent almost all of my first salary on fencing for raising local chickens, along the way I also made a lot of mistakes, lost crops even bought wrong equipment. Believe me I have tried to pump water from a well using a booster pump( I guess it’s true what they say that knowledge is power).
It is because of all these hardships that I encountered from the onset that I like to refer to my farming endeavours as a Cinderella story. I largely did not get any help in terms technical or financial guidance, or any form of mentorship. It was simply my passion and drive for farming that kept me going. Nevertheless, my Cinderella experience taught me a lot of things, like persistence in following one’s passion. But something even more profoundly significant happened during this phase…
I met the real Cinderellas
Despite all the challenges I seem to have faced , I must not neglect to mention that I have had access to family land, and that has made my journey to Agripreneurship much easier. It was when I hired some landless squatter women to help with the gardening, that I then realised that they are the real Cinderellas of any farming story. These are women who do not have access to farmland but occasionally buy vegetables for resale , ironically on farm plots which they worked on as hired labour. More often than not, they do not even have money to purchase these vegetables for cash and very few farmers are willing to give the produce to them on credit.
I decided to do something about it
My interactions with these Cinderella women taught me a lot, these women fetch water, firewood, look after their husbands and children, work as farm hands and on top of that also work as traders reselling vegetables to sustain their families. But capital is a major challenge for them. So after completing my master’s degree and being temporarily out of employment, I scrapped my savings together and installed a drip irrigation system of roughly an acre. When I started growing tomatoes, I invited the Cinderella women to purchase the tomatoes on credit and pay after they resale. And alas, it worked! A number of women came on board, but the challenge came when I got a full time job and I had problems with monitoring repayments. So I decided to experiment with a mobile payment solution and the women could deposit the repayments in my mobile money account. We were back in business.
But then I noticed also that the women have to carry heavy loads of tomatoes crates from the farm to the point of sale. Again, the mobile phone did the trick, my “farm Manager” ( of course this is a cousin who is permanently at the farm and get a commission) broadcasts a text message to them whenever he is doing a harvest. In this way, they all show up at the same time and it is easy for them to pool money and organise a light truck for transportation.
No midnight clocks
I believe I have found an approach that allows more landless women to earn some extra income from vegetable sales than would otherwise be possible. And truth be told, these women actually play an indispensible role in the smallholder agricultural produce distribution chain. And what would break my heart after I have started this would be for these Cinderella women to have a 12 o’clock midnight Cinderella moment when I am not around to do this. I would love for this approach to continue even after I move on to my next challenge. The incorporation of the mobile phone payment system, credit terms and pooling for transport has proved successful with 15 women on board, now I need to make it sustainable. So I am now working with my “programme manager” to replicate this with neighbouring farms.
Tying it all together
Of course there is no Cinderella story that ends without a prince charming. On the second phase of this pilot I want to set up a small green house (this my fancy word for a basic pole and shading structure ) for seed production. I have come to learn that some of these women have husbands and brothers who control certain pieces of land though not on title. The problem is that these men have little technical knowhow and plant low yield varieties, indirectly disadvantaging the women who sale on their behalf. By providing these men with improved hybrid seedling varieties on credit, I will help raise the incomes of these men and perhaps this can trickle down to the women who buy from them for resale.
Another challenge that these men who garden on small “illegal” plots face is that even when they have some good quality vegetable to sell, it is at times difficult for them to find a good market. They can’t sell to supermarkets or fresh produce off takers because they have a set minimum standard in terms of quantity and packaging. The solution… is that we start our own” Green Shop” to supply fresh produce , pool resources for rentals and managing the shop then let it run on that basis. My idea is that farmers can continuously supply their produce then get payment on a weekly or fortnightly basis less their rent and management contribution.
Plug Play and Repeat
Once this model is fully functional, I will put up more drip lines to increase capacity on the current site then move on to another part of town where I have access to traditional land, drill a borehole install an acre of drip then replicate the same model. Thus goes my strategic plan for the mentoring and $ 5,000; more drips on current location, small green house for seedlings and then a” Green Shop” to sort out the selling end. I plan to replicate the same model in several locations in 18 months. I am confident that with this model I can help create many happy ending Cinderella stories out there. I am convinced that the real heroines of our time in this fight against poverty, illiteracy and disease are the hard working women who strive to feed, educate and nurse their families against all odds.
Blogpost and picture submitted by Chanda Mutale (Zambia) – chandamt[at]yahoo.com
The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.
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