Even for those without physical challenges, farming is not an easy business to pursue. The pressure is even greater for Nkole Chanda, a wheelchair-bound young woman with no capital.
Nkole Chanda seems undaunted by the considerable challenges stacked against her. She has several ambitious farming ideas. One of these ideas is the determination to set up an agricultural manufacturing company focused on producing food ingredients and beauty products from the Moringa tree.
Even though realising that plan is still some way down the line, she has wasted no time to get stuck into farming.
Like many other venturing into farming, Nkole quickly learned that innovation and tenacity were key to survival. She started with what she had and with land that was available: the backyard of her family home in Lusaka’s Ibex Hill.
With chickens and vegetables, she already managed to earn a relatively stable inome. A basic philosophy is fueling her big dreams: “As long as I’m making progress, the farming will keep growing”.
Africanfarming.com spoke to Nkole Chanda.
Tell us about yourself?
Nkole Chanda: I’m 42 years old. I was born without any physical challenges and had a normal childhood. I pursued Information Technology Communication (ICT) studies after I completed my secondary school.
However, everything changed when I was 26. I was left immobile and wheelchair bound after suffering from tuberculosis of the spine. As if that was not enough I lost my father a few years later. That was a double blow for me. It was overwhelming and I just wanted to end it all.
Thankfully, I have a strong support group that helped me to rebound from that miserable situation. A visit to the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Cross drop center was the first step to recovery. Over the years I worked with a number of counselors. I would like to single out Chipangano Malowa who has done a remarkable job to help me get back into shape.
Why did you choose farming, and not another business that was more suited to your situation?
Nkole Chanda: First, I believe that people with disabilities have the same options and control over their choices in their lives as people without disabilities. In short, for me disability is not inability.
Second, I had the benefit of seeing farming as a meaningful and rewarding career. My late father besides being a civil servant had a huge interest in farming, and this complemented the income of our family. Therefore, it had a special meaning for me, and seemed a natural place for me to start.
Of course it is tough, and I had to consider what I could realistically do. I looked around what was available to me – and that happened to be our backyard and the water that was available.
What products are you farming?
Nkole Chanda: Having personally seen the benefits of the Moringa tree, I first started by planting Moringa trees. But with the help of my caregivers, I now also grow tomatoes, cabbages, spinach and raise chickens.
I have a particular interest in the Moringa tree, and early on I linked up with the Africa Moringa Hub that is promoting the farming of the plant as an empowerment option to get the continent out of poverty.
Being part of the hub helped me to hone my skills in farming as a business. I got real-time advice and was guided on drafting a business plan for my future start-up of producing Moringa-related food and beauty products. That is something that is exciting.
I’ve made some strides by applying for land from Rural Resettlement and lending institutions. I believe that is something we will be talking about in the near future.
Of immediate relevance is that I should be heeding the lessons that I have learnt from the Africa Moringa hub.
I’m spearheading the Zambian chapter where we have scores of women who are being tutored in planting the Moringa tree and earning money from selling the extracts of the tree.
With reasonable financing and land, I’m optimistic that this could potentially grow into a lucrative agro manufacturing enterprise.
Growing the Moringa tree is also at the core of the small eco-system I’ve created in the backyard. We mix the extracts with the Moringa tree with soya beans to make chicken feed.
The waste from the chickens is in turn used as manure for our vegetables.
How many customers do you have?
Nkole Chanda: We have about 30 regular customers for our vegetables and chickens. About half of them are buying the produce for re-sell and the remaining for consumption. Over 85% are women who come from around the Bauleni, and other nearby townships. In addition, we have neighbours who drop in for this and the other.
What measures are you using to evaluate your progress?
Nkole Chanda: One of the key things I look at every week are the sales we make from selling chickens and vegetables. We have developed a reasonable customer base from communities surrounding our home. These are mostly women who buy our produce for consumption and re-sell.
Our customers have largely grown by word of mouth. What is emerging is that will pretty soon we might find ourselves struggling to meet the demand if we don’t expand our existing activities.
Significantly, I must not forget the recognition I have received from my peers in farming. Small-Scale Farming (Farming as a business), a Facebook network forum for farmers, founded by Kingsley Kachenjela, have encouraged my efforts by giving me a drip irrigation kit, tomato seedlings and other farming inputs that have gone a long way to boost my farming.
How do you intend to grow the business?
Nkole Chanda: The immediate hurdle I face is the acquisition of land and access to capital. The current land administration places an onerous task on one to get titled land. Second, lending institutions are shy in lending to emergent farmers.
I have also benefited working with the empowerment group, Anakazi in Agriculture (literally meaning women in agriculture). Working with the group, I’m trying to get authorities to respond to the needs of women like me in this important sector.
I’m optimistic that the policies government is putting in place will help us to overcome the challenges of capital and land sooner rather than later.
Despite all these hurdles, I’m chugging along. Over the last few years I’ve acquired valuable knowledge in farming as a business. I have been on farm tours of very successful entities and learnt a great deal. The network of the Small-Scale Farming (Farming as a business) group has also been a valuable source of technical advice and support.
The knowledge and support I received from the industry have given me the green light to keep on farming.
What might you differently today, if you knew then what you know now?
Nkole Chanda: If I had to pick one thing, it would be planting more crops on this little piece of land because the demand for vegetables is huge. And I think it is not too late, we can still do that.
You mentioned earlier about setting up an agro-manufacturing enterprise, please tell us more about it?
Nkole Chanda: Yes. Out of the work I’ve been doing as the champion of the Zambia Moringa Hub, I registered a company called Soleli (meaning “come and eat”) Enterprises. I envisage this to be a start-up that will cut across the value chain of growing, production and marketing of Moringa-related products.
I’ve covered the big opportunity in the business plan I developed with the help of the founder of Africa Moringa Hub. Geographically, the opportunity covers the entire continent, Western Europe and North America, where the demand for healthy food is on the increase.
It is also true that the beauty products that are produced in environmental-friendly farms was also on the rise.
The business plan has dealt in considerable detail with the size of the market and relevant partnerships required to capture the opportunity. We have looked at the size and attractiveness of markets locally and internationally.
We have also looked at potential partners in each market that can bring help us meet the demand of our customers.
Having done that, it is pretty much one step at a time. First, we need to get over the challenge of land acquisition and secondly, finance.
What is your advice to anyone setting out in farming?
Nkole Chanda: First utilise the available resources for learning about farming. Second, know the importance of networking and third, avoid being a jack of all trades. In the end “wishing it” won’t make it, but hard work will.