The discipline of academic life after school can never be a waste of time even if a graduate uses his or her skills in another sector. There is a growing number of young Zambians entering the agricultural sector with degrees in unrelated fields.
One such youngster – Bupe Njelesani (26) – has taken up farming and is already turning himself into a successful agriculturalist with a first-time harvest of 20 tons of soya beans (400 bags of 50kg each) on about 30 ha.
A WAY OF LIFE
Recently married to Towela, Bupe told Africanfarming.com that he had always had a love for farming and a rural way of life. This was the reason he had left the capital, Lusaka, and decided to try his hand at farming the family’s 70ha farm in Kasama, Northern Province, which is 900km from Lusaka.
“Farming has given me a degree of contentment and a sense of achievement that I wouldn’t have in the city,” says Bupe. “There is a sense of community and belonging in the country that you don’t get anywhere else.”
Infrastructural improvements and advances in telecommunications and road and rail networks will make things easier for farmers and improve their access to markets says Bupe. This, he hopes, will encourage even more young people to start agri-businesses, change lives and improve food security. “Successful farming has the potential to make a big difference to many lives.”
STARTING FROM SCRATCH
A team of 10 labourers helped Bupe with the initial land clearing, after which a 60-member team cultivated and ridged the area, by hand with hoes. Bupe says his decision to plant soya (Lukanga variety) was partly influenced by the advice of consultants. “It’s not a difficult crop and the market looked promising,” he explains.
According to Bupe, the 2015 pilot he ran with the Lukanga variety, known for high yield potential and disease resistance, went well. “The prices were also good that season.”
Last season (2016/2017), Bupe planned to plant 40ha to soya. Disappointingly, although the land was cleared, it was not all planted which meant his harvest was down on what he expected it to be. A short dry spell also reduced the yields, he says. Yet, the more or less 1.5 ton per hectare he harvested, is not bad for a first time effort on dry land.
Good general yields this season meant that there was downward pressure on the price for soya which dropped to K2.30/kg. Bupe knows however, that the nature of marketing agricultural commodities is cyclical and farmers must be prepared to take the downturns as well as to benefit from the upswings.
“I’m looking to break even and I’m making plans for the next season,” he says. According to Bupe there are more than 300 000 small-scale farmers who have had to cope with fairly serious price drops on the soya market this season. “Cheap imports of edible oils is just compounding the situation.”
NAVIGATING THE MARKET
It comes down to a farmer’s approach to the challenges that present themselves says this young farmer. “I saw an opportunity here and decided to sell my crop as seed. Soya will always be an important crop because it has the capacity to adapt to climate change.” Farmers can improve their margins a little when they sell to seed companies, he says.
There are regional and international initiatives afoot that aim to fast-track the launch of improved breed varieties with high yields, drought tolerance and pest and disease tolerance. Development of these traits will reduce the farmer’s input costs.
Bupe explains that volumes are important with soya. “Without volumes you will be hard hit when the price drops.”
Bupe has budgeted to plant 40ha to the Dina soya variety for the coming season and will diversify with maize and other crops. Diversification is a sensible option that gives farmers some kind of safety net on markets that are not always predictable.
Improving efficiencies is high on Bupe’s agenda and he is looking at putting the 70ha farm under irrigation in the future.
Despite having graduated in International Studies and Public Relations, this young farmer is forging ahead in agriculture, proof that learning is never wasted, or as one young African farmer put it, “A university education is not as much about learning the content as it is about learning how to think.”
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