Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables to grow in Zambia and the most popular vegetable in the world. The average cost of a seedling is K1.70 (£0.06) from Seedco nursery propagaters and a box of tomatoes can sell for K50 (£1.70) to K140 (£4.80) (prices peak during the rainy season).
New varieties like Seedcos Hybrid have a weekly harvest lasting 3 months of the year (if planted properly) making it a lucrative vegetable to produce. International businessmen like Don Stacey who have made millions by farming tomatoes commercially take advantage of the high demand in the surrounding export markets and the less consistent small scale farmers. There is no doubt with the right amount of effort, planning and investment this is a business that can make you a millionaire.
Today we had the honour of interviewing a man who teaches thousands how to make that a reality, one of the country’s leading agriculture experts, Eric Mwenda.
The Life and Success of Eric Mwenda
Eric Mwenda is the author of the book ‘Be a Farmer, Be a Millionaire’ and the host of a show of the same name on ABN (Every night at 19:00). He is also the creator of the ‘Tomato Growers Network – Zambia’, a community of over 51,000 farmers, where he regularly posts farming advice. The fan page for his book has over 8,000 fans as the book scooped multiple Pan-African Writers awards and his own personal fan page 5,000 followers. Despite his strenuous schedule he still manages to maintain a full time job as the Head of the Vegetable Business Unit at Seedco Zambia. Seedco International is one of the largest seed producing companies in the world with an annual turnover north of $60 million. Despite all of his achievements what Mr Mwenda finds most prideful are his students, amongst whom he can claim the current head of the Zambia Farmers Association and millionaire farmer Maria Zaloumis as one of his oldest clients. She regards him as one of her greatest mentors and said: “ He has been my mentor since 2016 when I first started and he has become a dear friend. He always encourages me and keeps me from quiting when it gets difficult. He truly is Mr Tomatoes”.
The ‘Kalusha Bwalya’ of farming Tomatoes
Mr Mwenda was born in a small village in Senanga, Western Province. While joking about our shared Lozi heritage he argued: “The thing about people from Senanga is that they tend to be born leaders”. While this may be true it tends to be against the odds, Western Provinceyeye is one of the poorest regions in the country with the lowest level of financial inclusion (40%) and government expenditure (9th in region by region comparison).
He has managed to overcome this circumstance and to date Mr Mwenda can be considered a success as he currently advises numerous commercial farms on top of his various responsibilities. He initially started his workshops as part of his job at Syngenta, one of the largest seed distributors. He began holding workshops on how to successfully grow the ‘Newton’ variety seed to his clients. The first group he served cumulatively produced enough tomatoes that the price tanked from oversupply in that region. Since then he has trained farmers in Egypt, South Africa and Eastern Asia with award winning students in Botswana and Namibia.
He argues he was given the gift to be able to communicate his ideas and therefore wants as many people to know about his methods to increase the country’s productivity. He has earned the nicknames ‘Tomato Guru” and ‘Mr Tomatoes’ from his students but when asked he prefers the ‘Kalusha Bwalya of Tomatoes’,
“ When you’re driving home from, let’s say Northern Province, it is sad as all you can see is arable land that is not being used properly. If we wanted Zambia could be the largest exporter of tomatoes in our region”, he lamented during the interview.
The Tomato Farming Economy
According to Tridge, Zambia ranks 166th in the world for tomato exports and 134th in Tomato imports globally. Egypt is currently Africa’s the largest producer of tomatoes with production of 8.6 million tons annually with Nigeria, Morocco and Tunisia following far behind (South Africa is 6th with half a million tons annually, accounting for 20% of the country’s vegetable production). Egypt produces almost half of all of Africa’s tomato exports and the demand from the global market is valued at £147B annually and rising at 6% per year.
The largest tomato importer in the world is currently the United States with domestic supply contributing to just 40% of demand. The average export value of a tonne of tomatoes is £974 per tonne and the industry contributes £1.47B annually to the largest exporter, Mexico. Southern Africa has the lowest contribution to global production mostly due to tariffs. With the incoming Africa Free Trade Agreement 60% of the cost of exporting goods will be removed meaning a comparative advantage for African producers. China produces the most tomatoes currently with over 50 million tonnes annually but this still does not account for the demand.
Mr Mwenda is one of the most respected voices in the Agricultural sector and we hope you find his story an inspiration.
Please click on the following links for more of his content:
- For his Youtube channel where he posts instructions on how to succeed in farming, click here
- For the largest community of Tomato farmers in Zambia, good for sharing ideas and asking questions when struggling, click here
- For the Facebook fan page for the book (old) where you can access more details about his book please, click here
- Download his Guide on ‘How to Grow Tomatoes in Rainy Season’ in Partnership with Financial Insight Zambia by clicking here (Coming Soon)