Mr. Alexander and mrs. Agatha Tendai Matuka may have started out as small-scale farmers in Zambia’s Central Province some years back, but their joint passion for agriculture, keen business sense and ambition to excel has propelled them into commercial status in a short time.
At their current rate of expansion and progress this husband-and-wife team will soon be able to call themselves mega farmers.
Their farming business comprises 2 farms in the Luano District on which they cultivate 400 ha of land. Last year they planted 68 ha to maize, 36 ha to soya, 1 hectare of tomatoes, a hectare of field beans, a hectare of ground nuts, as well as 2 1 hectare blocks of sunflowers. In their vegetable fields they produce cabbage and other vegetables, mainly for their and other migrant workers in the area.
They irrigate their crops from a perenial stream that flows through their property, but also sank a borehole in 2016. This enables them to plant watermellons, which fetch good prices in Lusaka. A lot of their watermellons and tomatoes are also sold on the Democratic Republic of Congo border and at the informal markets of Kitwe.
They sell their maize to millers such as Jamo’s Milling in Ndola and Antelope Milling in Lusaka. The sunflower seeds are pressed at Musansa and the oil is for their own consumption, with excesses sold locally. Last year they got 47 20-litre containers and are now considering investing in their own oil press.
Looking at the Matuka farm, it’s hard to believe that this couple started with nothing in a piece of virgin bush. 5 years ago they planted their first crop ploughing with oxen and planting at the same time right after the first rains.
They now have a range of modern agricultural machinery. Their tractors are in the field in September/October already when they start to plough. They have gone from hand planting and harrowing to using an 8-row John Deere planter for grains.
The team of 8 workers who had to spray herbicide with 16-litre backpack sprayers on their backs, can now look up from their other work and watch the 600 l boom spray do the spraying. A second tractor allows them to plant and fertilise at the same time using a fertiliser spreader.
While they still harvest their maize by hand, they invested in a shearer 3 years ago, which allows them to shear 1800 x 50 kg bags of maize in a day. They have a shed where they can store 1 500 bags of maize.
While their own fields are stumped, they cannot use their tractors and ploughs in the fields they rent from other landowners. Here they still have to use oxen and plant by hand. For this they hire temporary workers from nearby villages.
In 2016 they hired 38 people to help with the planting and needed 100 extra pairs of hands at harvest time in 2017. They hope to own a combine harvester within the next few years.
MULTIPLE REVENUE STREAMS
Besides the income from their jobs as extension officers, they also support their cash flow from Tendai Agro Enterprises, agricultural stores that they have opened in various locations.
Being stockists of Pannar Seed has given them a foothold in the retail sector and from their stores they also sell fertiliser, agrichemicals, small implements and a variety of crop seeds from other companies.
They also rent land from other landowners where possible, and in the case of field beans recently managed to harvest as much from rented fields as they did from their own. “We got 45 x 10 kg bags off our own fields and 46 bags from the fields we rented last year.”
The Matuka’s have a small livestock component to their operation which comprises 39 breeding cows, two bulls and 28 oxen. They hold back their male calves to make oxen, which they use with ox carts to ferry equipment, tools and produce around on the farm.
They also let neighbours and other farmers borrow their oxen when they need to. They manage a near 100% calving rate on their breeding females thanks to a strict parasite control regime. “We spray for ticks once a week,” says Alex.
Both of them learned the ropes of commercial agriculture at previous jobs when they worked for commecial farming operations. Alex used to work for Zambia Sugar and Agatha worked for Zambia Leaf Tobacco Company, which has equiped them well for their current jobs with the Department of Agriculture as extension officers. Alex is the extension officer for the Mkushi area and Agatha for the Luano district.
“We have copied on our farms, the systems and business practices we’ve learned from our previous employers,” says Alex. “We try to think commercially about everything we do,” adds Agatha.