The youngest son to be born into a farming family in Mazabuka in the Southern Province, Stanford Mweemba (24) is building on the family legacy and taking the farm a level up into the commercial sector.
Stanford’s two older brothers were not keen on farming and Stanford says his father got a little more insistent with him. “My father, Joey Mweemba, didn’t give me a choice. He went ahead and enrolled me for a certificate course at Chipempi Agricultural College in 2011.”
But all’s well that ends well, and Stanford now manages his father’s 600ha farm, Tudwe Hill, with great delight. “I thoroughly enjoy my job as marketer and overseer of the farm,” he adds.
While he recognizes the value of education and has now signed on for a diploma course, he says his real satisfaction comes from the experience of hands-on farming.
The management of Tudwe Hill revolved around seasonal activities and labour was hired on a seasonal basis, when Stanford came on board. “The work was back-breaking and cyclical and there was a sense of hopelessness in the labour team,” he explains. “There were no performance or production benchmarks, no input or output guidelines.”
Indeed, no small task then for a young man to tackle.
Stanford quickly realised the urgent need to take a new direction so that he could steer the family farm through more profit-orientated pathways, toward the goal of developing a successful, commercial agricultural business.
A key element of the plan for change was an early decision to engage constructively with his permanent, and his seasonal, staff. From this position he would be better equipped to ensure job satisfaction, and thus productivity, in his teams.
“After all,” he says, “successful harvests come from good farm workers, without whom we could not function.”
Stanford articulates his strategy clearly and concisely. His words reflect a goal-orientated and determined personality but also a thoughtful one. Never inattentive, he focuses fully on each matter under discussion.
‘After all, successful harvests come from good farm workers, without whom we could not function.’
The numbers are up for maize and soya at Tudwe Hill this year. Soya yields run at 2t/ha off a total area of 20ha, and maize offtakes are 4t/ha off 15ha. “Unfortunately, our groundnuts did not do well this season because of the high rainfall we had,” Stanford says. On the flip side, good rain has had a hugely positive impact on maize and soya, he adds.
Initially concerned about the human factor in pushing production, Stanford developed a key task procedural system that got farm personnel to prioritise. “Land preparation, planting, fertilising and weeding would be obvious examples of key tasks,” he explains. “I applied what I learnt at college. We were taught to design and structure farm work so that every person on the team had a very clear idea of specific task and job goals.”
Even more importantly, Stanford explains that people need to understand what they are doing, and why they are doing it. This understanding can only come from teaching and learning, but it is absolutely essential if one wants a good, productive team.
Next, he added budget discipline to his management system so that there was input measurement, which relates in turn, to production and yields.
“I can now go to my father, Joey Mweemba, with a clear outline of our current position, and a good idea of where we need to get to.”
MARKETING THE CROP
Stanford’s production drive starts to make real sense when one looks at the figures. “This year’s soya price has been pegged at more than K5/kg which is a lot better than the K3.50 of previous seasons,” he says. Good margins and reduced input costs will keep Stanford on the soya trail once again in the 2017/2018 season, he tells africanfarming.com.
The Mweemba family took a business decision to put some money into a small milling operation in Choma, about 120km from Tudwe Hill this year. “Good returns from maize are a function of adding value,” he says. “It’s also a good incentive to increase yields in the coming season.”
Stanford says that the Internet’s social media platforms have made it easy for him to identify trends in market supply and demand pressure, and to reach customers. “Social media platforms give me the ability to react quickly and decisively. It’s essential in the new marketing environment,” he says.
He keeps his market close by drawing from many sources, including social media, as he continually builds his client database by recording customer histories and profiles. Provincial and national agricultural expos provide a different kind of weapon in the marketing arsenal and one which contributes enormously to developing an associate network in the sector.
GAIN THROUGH DIVERSITY
Better, more targeted, marketing presents this enterprising young farmer with a wonderful opportunity to expand his business. One aspect of a more diverse farming operation is the planned fresh produce project.
Stanford saw good cash-flow prospects in growing veggies like tomatoes, cabbages and onions, but realised that consistently profitable yields needed reliable irrigation. First, he tackled, and overcome, his father’s resistance to the plan, by convincing him of the profit possibilities in veggie production. “I sold my idea by presenting my father with a bankable business plan.”
To this end, he has just installed one hectare’s worth of drip irrigation, gaining more traction on his forward momentum. He is confident that fresh produce offtakes will pay for the irrigation system fairly quickly, and pave the way for investment in other enterprises on the farm.
Tudwe’s herd currently runs at about 160 head of cattle, a sector of the business to which Stanford turns his critical attention. He hopes to kick-start herd expansion using cash generated by the fresh produce project. Once the herd has reached critical mass, as it were, at 500 head, he will examine value-adding through breeding and slaughter.
Zambia imports 20 000t of beef every year, presenting cattle farmers with a major opportunity to grow their herds and increase red meat production. As an emerging farme Stanford stands to benefit from access to government projects with dip-tank facilities.
Raising cattle creates possibilities for the development of integrated farming systems. Cattle dung is a useful manure to boost vegetable production and reduce the fertiliser bill while putting organic structure back into degraded soil.
YOUNG FARMER DRIVE PARTNERS WITH OPTIMISM
Stanford seems to have that rare trait, a wise head on young shoulders. While there is little doubt that his ambitious plans would need fairly heavy cash injections, he is in no hurry to borrow expensive money from banking institutions. He prefers to generate wealth through cash cropping to fund his expansion.
“With bank interest rates as high as they are, we will grow the business organically. I’m optimistic about the future of food and farming.”