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A young farmer, Amos Chipokosa, of Kapalamula Village, Chief Nyoka, in Mchinj District in Malawi is an example of a fast-growing rural entrepreneur. Born on 28 December 1982 and attained O’Levels in 2006, the young entrepreneur is married to Sofilet Banda. His spouse was born on 12 Dec 1985 and also attained O’Levels in 2007. They got married on 28 November 2008. They are blessed with a baby girl, Linley, born on 27 October 2009.
When they were growing up, Amos and Sofilet had different visions of life. Having been brought up in a catholic community, Amos wanted to be a priest. After finishing school, his vision changed to owning a successful business. His ambition is to grow the current grocery store business, whose current value is estimated at MK500,000 (US$3,000) into a thriving wholesale business.
On the other hand, Sofilet wanted to become a school teacher. She still harbors the ambition of becoming a teacher up to now. “I am where I am because education opened my mind. So I really wanted to be part of a team that opens other people’s minds so that they can prosper in life”, she observes.
Amos and Sofilet run a grocery store, which started in December 2008. This business idea came from Sofilet. “When I was living in Mponela in Dowa District, our neighbor had a grocery store and the wife used to operate the store. I observed that the family lived a decent life and easily met their day to day needs due to regular cash flow”, Sofilet narrates. “It is a business which both husband and wife can operate”, she adds. Amos’s initial reaction to Sofilet’s business idea was a series of questions. Sofielt recounts: “He asked me several questions: what are the benefits of this business? What are the problems we will encounter? How much start-up capital do we need?” Luckily, Amos allowed the business idea to get onto the road but he backed out saying he wanted to observe how the business starts up. Sofilet started the grocery store with MK15, 000 (about US$110 at the time). Of this, MK10,000 was sales of groundnuts and she borrowed MK5,000 from her brother.
In 2009, Amos decided to boost the business by injecting a working capital of MK15,000. These were earnings from soya sales. He grew 1 acre (0.4ha) of soya beans by joining Tiyanjane farmers club under the Clinton Development Initiative anchor farm business development project in 2008/09 season. He harvested 7 bags of soya beans (about 350kgs). He managed to pay off the farm input loan of MK22,000 and had a profit of MK15,000. He invested all this profit into the grocery store business. The family continued growing soya in the following year, 2009/10 season. They grew 1 acre soya financed by family savings and harvested 8 bags (400kgs). They had a profit of MK27,000 and recall that prices were depressed (MK40/kg as opposed to MK85/kg in 2009).
Their business model is characterized by a symbiotic or “cross” financing strategy. Thus proceeds from crop farming are injected into the grocery store business and earnings from this business are used for covering crop production costs. For instance in 2010/2011 cropping season, they grew: 3 acres of maize (and harvested 10.5 ox-carts, equivalent to 425kgs of maize grain); 0.5 acres soya beans (harvested 100kgs); 2 acres groundnuts (harvested 60 pails unshelled nuts equivalent to 300kgs shelled nuts); and 1 acre tobacco (harvested 5 bales x 100kg each). The grocery store covered production expenses in the sum of MK106,000 (about $650) broken down as follows: hybrid maize seed MK8,400; 10 bags of fertilizer MK65,000; hired labor MK33,000.
Over and above these production expenses, the young family invested in a backyard livestock enterprise. They bought 5 pigs when they were piglets at MK2,000 each and 1 goat at MK4,500 in 2011. Amos retorts: “Livestock is very useful during emergencies. It is handy for input purchase – you just sell some of the stock and you buy farm inputs just like that! We also keep livestock for festivities.”
This was not all the expenses the business financed in 2011. They also paid school fees for Amos sister who is at a secondary school at Kochilira in Mchinji. In 2011 she was operating from home as a day scholar. Her fees and out of pocket money was MK15,000. Amos and Sofilet bought a business piece of land at Matutu trading center within Mchinji District at MK30,000. His plan is to build a house by next year for commercial rental business. A year before last, in 2010. The couple rented 2 acres of land (bringing the total landholding to 6.5 acres) for two years at MK14,000. In the same year they invested about MK70,000 in improving their house. It is indeed a decent home as seen in the picture.
Asked on why under the same environment many other people fail to prosper, Sofilet had this to say: “To me, the key is education. A lot of people have tried to open businesses but they do not go far because they are unable to determine whether they are making a loss or profit. In addition, lack of frank discussions between husband and wife lead to inability to generate and implement good business ideas”. Amos added that most people like consumption expenditure hence their businesses don’t grow. For those who are in matrilineal family system, there is no incentive to invest as once there is a family conflict the man can be chased away from the wife’s home”, Amos added, over a laughter.
Interview taken on: 27 April 2012
Interview and story-writing by: Austin Ngwira, CDI/Malawi
Photography: Brave Simpuki, CDI/Malawi