Living the dream: An inspiration from Mzenje Tembo

A DREAM, they say, does not become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.

There is also a famous saying: “If you aren’t willing to work for it, don’t complain about not having it.”

Mzenje Tembo, 39, agrees with both quotes saying “Nothing worth having comes easy.”

Tembo, an agriculturalist by profession, says growing different type of crops is his passion and that he will do anything to ensure that more people join him on this journey.

Tembo, a father of four; two girls and two boys, is the first person to grow rice in Lumezi, Lundazi district.

“I am an agronomist. Born in 1978, educated in Lundazi; both primary and secondary school. After secondary school, I went to Lusaka to pursue basic diploma in agriculture at NRDC. Then later, I started working with Kafue Sugar Consolidated Farming Limited. I was there for six years, and then moved to Savannah Group of companies as agriculture manager. I later on realised that I needed to do my own things,” Tembo explains.


“I am currently doing consultancy in agriculture at personal level which of course includes activities such as exploiting new potential in areas where people do not know they can grow particular crops. I am also doing my own things in horticulture. At the moment, I am doing a horticulture project supplying to Fresh Mark horticulture crops; tomatoes, cabbage, green and red pepper etc. I have also discovered areas in Eastern Province where they have not been able to grow crops that they should grow. I have taken it upon myself to exploit and open up a diversified way of farming. I am growing rice and Irish potatoes. It is believed that rice can only be grown along Luangwa River in Chama…but in areas where there are streams, people have always thought that rice cannot grow well. It’s amazing how rice is growing in Lumezi. It’s doing very well; it’s also very encouraging how people have also turned up to be taught…others have even started growing rice this season on the same land they thought was not good for rice. The only challenge we are facing is that the land required a specified variety that can grow which is the Chama rice. We have a challenge growing the Mongu rice here…I tried it but it failed because it requires more water. As for the Chama rice, it is good but I am having challenges finding the seed because I am growing it for myself. I need to find more seed probably to expand it to the out growers so that I can give them seed, they grow it for me and they get something out of that.”


He says the rice project would greatly benefit the community.


“If I could find a way of getting seed, I think it will be an advantage because more people will benefit from it. My whole projection is to have as many people as possible to grow this crop which could in the long run substitute the dependence on maize and other crops. What I am doing in Lundazi is proving to be a success. It’s just the mentality that we have as human beings. There is just this mentality of saying there are just certain crops that can only grow in certain regions. For example, saying that cassava has to be grown in the Northern Province of Zambia, when you look back, it can be grown anywhere. Our tropical climate in Zambia allows us to grow almost all crops everywhere. For example, there is a notion to say, you can only grow sugar cane where there is water; in a waterlogged area. No! You can plant sugar cane even at the backyard, start irrigating it and eat it nicely. It can grow anywhere, on any type of soil but all it requires is proper nutrition. That has also been the notion on rice. There has been a notion that you can only grow rice in waterlogged areas which is not the case. You can actually also grow just like you grow wheat, on an irrigated areas using centre pivot irrigation,” Tembo says.


He says it is possible for Zambians to grow rice in their backyards, irrigate it and give it the nutrition it requires.


“With all the availability of streams and rivers in almost every part of the country, why can’t we go there and grow it? There has never been the will power, there has never been the support. This requires concerted effort from the government. I am doing it out of passion and business. Now, the fact that I am doing it out of passion and business, I have been in touch with the poor rural, the small scale farmers. All we need is to sensitise them. They have to see someone doing it, like I am. They have to see people doing it and succeeding. You can only tell someone to do what you are doing when they see you succeeding. I am doing it as an individual. I am more like a leader to the small scale farmers. I am playing a leading role but I would also love to see more people doing it. This will help the country economically,” Tembo says.


“Inasmuch as the small scale farmers are not recognised that much, they play a pivotal role in the growth of the economy. I am in Eastern Province right now. I was last here 20 years ago. I am doing what I call regional crop diversification. I am doing horticulture crops in Central Province, Chibombo, and rice in Eastern Province…This is a beautiful way of opening up projects in different parts of the country. I have 12 hectares under irrigation in Chibombo growing vegetables…I supply vegetables to the market almost on a daily basis. This one also [growing of rice and Irish potatoes] is meant to supplement the other crops we are growing. We are getting potatoes from South Africa, but we also have nice crops in Zambia, like the Chama rice, it is very nice.”


He says there is need to encourage people to grow rice so that could start supplying supermarkets and also begin to export.


“What do we have to do? From my perception, it is just the will power both from us the citizens and the government. It is not just the government to do it. We should not think that only the government can do things to develop this country. Yes, there is a part that the government has to do but citizens also need to play a role in developing this country. We need to develop the will to do it and when we develop the will to do it, then we can discover the support and look up to the government. There are a lot of organisations ready to fund such projects,” Tembo says.


He says he finds peace doing what makes sense.


“Everything that I am putting my hands on is working accordingly and I am sure it is by the will of God that I am able to do what I am doing. Five years from now, I see myself running a big out-grower scheme…in form of agribusiness where you involve and target the small scale farmers and the poor rural,” Tembo says.


“I want to do it in such a way that I should not be the one to grow the crop but I can involve others to grow it, in a way that will benefit them. I want to develop an out-grower system that will give me a constant flow of cash; that will trickle down to the poor. How does it trickle down to the poor? I will develop a chain between the retailers and the producers, the producers being the out grower in the rural areas.”


He says he will be the direct contact for the rural, small scale farmer.


“A link whereby they grow the crop, through me, they are linked because I supply a certain sector; meaning that when I supply, I will have the cash that will trickle down to the people that grow the crop for me. I have to give them seed, teach them how to grow it and they grow it for me. They would have given me back my seed in one way or the other, like in monetary form. They will grow my seed and the same seed they will grow, I will use it to give other people so that the catchment of people growing the same seed widens by virtue of those that will be growing it yearly,” Tembo explains.


He says agribusiness in Zambia is workable.


“I know Lusaka inside out. Because of the two companies that I worked for, I am well connected in Lusaka. If you talk about Eastern Province, I have the connections because of my profession. I want to take advantage of the fact that I am well connected by using the experience I have acquired to achieve my vision. It’s not just a monetary vision; it is a vision of passion. We should change our attitude. Your attitude towards anything makes who you are. I want every Zambian to know that it is not the government that will make them succeed. You can have a good government or a bad one but if you don’t improve your attitude towards what you think will change your life, you will remain stagnant. We should always bear this in mind: ‘We have been given an opportunity to live here on earth. With everything we need within us. It depends on all us to unleash that strong will that God has given to us to use it to the fullest. The power to change our lives lies in us. We should change the way we look at things. 75 per cent of success lies in us. 25 per cent is what you get from the environment,” says Tembo.


“There is 75 per cent possibility for any Zambian to succeed but it depends on us to discover what we are good at and make it work. We should learn to be patient and we should also try by all means to learn from others. We should not lazy around because of what it has been. We always want to live on tradition, ‘Our parents have always been doing it like this, so I have to do what my parents did’; go to school, find a job, retire, go back to the village and build a house. No! We should not be complacent. Let’s work hard and change our lives. We have got enough resources in this country; let’s change our country in a miraculous way.”

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