Brian Musonda (57) runs a mixed farming operation on his 10ha small-scale commercial farm outside the Copperbelt town of Ndola. An engineer, who graduated from, a German Polytech, Brian has spent the greater part of his working life in the engineering sector.
At some point he realised that farming was a business, and that, much like any business, the profitability of a farm is directly related to the way it is managed. “Managing input costs sustainably generates value in a business. I found that out when I managed my own engineering company, and I was confident I could apply the same wisdom in farming,” says Brian.
ADDING VALUE TO FARMING THROUGH ENGINEERING
In 2007, fortified by this conviction and by his business experience, Brian used his savings to buy the 10 hectares he currently farms. “I had no illusions that it would be easy,” says Brian about his decision to farm fulltime. “But I had my wife’s backing and a firm belief that the timing was right.”
Engineers are familiar with the principles of integration and optimal resource use and it wasn’t long before Brian began to apply these principles on his farm. He set up a poultry enterprise, and later a piggery, to supply much-needed manure to his banana grove. Vegetables and maize followed.
There is no farming operation that would not benefit from the scrupulous planning, and meticulous attention to detail, that is mandatory in the engineering profession.
Brian explains that a systems-based approach recognises the importance of interconnections and the functional relationships between different components. “Our system is based on understanding how each part of our farming enterprise works and the outcomes of each process,” he says.
LOW INPUT MIXED OPERATION
“We make our livestock feed from the maize we grow; from our animals we get the manure we need for the crops.”
Diversity has cushioned Brian’s farming business in the current volatile market with its poor grain, vegetable and poultry market prices.
‘We would be crying if we had focused on a single farming activity’
The mix of poultry, pigs, vegetables and maize helps to hedge this farmer against unstable markets. His piggery has made good profits because of robust domestic demand for pork.
“We would be crying if we had focused on a single farming activity,” Brian says.
Integration of the enterprises needs planning and discipline and Brian works a long day, starting at 7am and ending at sunset. His daily tasks include supervising 16 full-time workers in the piggery and poultry units; managing the irrigation of field cash crops such as cabbages and onions and land preparation for dryland maize and tomatoes.
“When I started in 2007, I managed by remote control. Then a few years ago, I decided to farm full-time. Luckily my children have all grown up and my wife is a huge help especially in management,” Brian says.
Putting the pigsties and the poultry houses at opposite ends of the farm and implementing strict sanitation controls for farm workers who move between both sections has been effective in controlling diseases.
Pig and broiler feed is made from home-grown maize and soya beans off 3.5ha and animal dung is used to fertilise crops. “This is how we keep our production costs down. In essence the intensified use of our own resources in a sustainable manner through diversification of farming activities has kept us afloat despite the challenges of depressed prices, especially for poultry and crops,” Brian says.
One of the clearest indications of the system’s benefits is the maintenance of a full-time workforce despite the distressed economy.
A fall in the demand for poultry has forced Brian to reduce broiler production by 50%. “Previously we did about 1 000 a week but now we are down 500.”
Pigs have remained popular for breeding and slaughter which has encouraged Brian to upscale his production from 300 market-ready pigs every 10 weeks to 12 weeks to about 500 market-ready pigs.
Despite price drops, the established vegetable operation brings necessary cash into the business. “The cabbages and onions we grow are mostly a 30 day to 60 day crop. Weekly sales generate a cash flow.”
With the rainy season ahead, Brian is planning to plant dryland (without irrigation) tomatoes. Most producers don’t grow tomatoes in the rainy season so the price goes up he says, explaining why he thinks it is a good time to produce tomatoes.
Like other Zambian farmers, Brian says that word-of-mouth has been the most effective means of advertising. “More than 80% of our customers have been acquired like this. The bulk of our business is done through pre-orders.”
A presence on FaceBook has also helped to lift his businesses’ profile in the market. Since he started using the social network he has had enquiries from people who want to visit his farm. He has agreed to host an open day for farmers and his customers later this month.
“The kind of engagement has marketing value and helps us to understand what our customers need and what the challenges are.”
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