How Magande helped to make Chilala the best black farmer in Zambia

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Ng’andu Magande

“In mid-1987, the Agricultural Finance Company (AFC) was dissolved and Lima Bank took over all the assets and liabilities of both the AFC and Zambia Agricultural Development Bank (ZADB). Amongst the assets were a large number of members of staff and a huge stock of bad debts. This was because AFC had relaxed its lending procedures in consonance with the socialist policies that had developed in other Zambian economic areas.
Many of the delinquent borrowers of the AFC were those who wrongly believed that the loans were not to be repaid as they were independence gifts. We instituted strict lending rules and debt collection measures, such as confiscation of valuable assets including cattle from cattle-keeping defaulters.
I directed the Lima Bank officials at the Kalomo branch to confiscate cattle from a well-known village headman and to release them only after he’d paid the total outstanding loan. This approach sent a clear message to debtors that it will not be business as usual and the borrowers changed their behaviour. At the end of the 1988/89 season, the Bank’s loan recovery rate improved significantly to over eighty-five per cent.
In 1989, Lima Bank acquired a computer from Woodgate Holdings Limited. A thorough orientation on its proper operation and use were given to our staff by Misiteli Ngwenya and Ernest Goodwill, staff of the seller. I was excited with the new garget and encouraged officers to take a keen interest in learning the use of the computer. With a computer, we were able to keep accurate data on the operations of the bank. This increased the resource envelope for the loan portfolio of the bank as loan repayments increased and all recovered money was put into the revolving loan fund.
I attended a seminar on, “New Financial Instruments for Development” at George Washington University in the USA, sponsored by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). With additional tools acquired, I introduced new management systems in the bank. As a result, the bank’s annual loan recovery rates went up to above ninety-five per cent and more funds were lent out.
Special schemes for beekeeping, irrigation, timber logging, and artisanal fishing were introduced in selected and suitable areas of the country. The programme included the identification of local manufacturers or importers of various equipments such as saws, ploughs, hammer mills, scotch carts, beehives, boat engines, fishnets, and banana boats, which were required by our clients in the rural areas.
Approved loans were paid directly to the suppliers, while our clients just collected the implements by the presentation of Local Purchase Orders (LPOs), without handling any money. These schemes saw a resurgence of economic activities in areas such as Kabompo, Kaoma, Sinazongwe, and Samfwa. The performance assessments for staff were on the basis of their lending levels for the activities suited to their areas.
The Kaleya Engineering Limited, owned by Boart (Zambia) Limited of Anglo American Limited was identified as the supplier of oxen implements to Lima Bank clients. Nkwazi Net Company of Kafue was the supplier of nets and boats, while Marine Services of Lusaka supplied boat engines. The arrangement worked very well and many small-scale farmers were equipped through loans from Lima Bank.
My managers and I created close personal relationships with the owners and those managing all the companies. We could contact them at short notice and get our requirements. I became personally acquainted with Piet Siwale of Boart, Siyoto Kunyanda of Marine Services, Peter Munthali of Nkwazi Net Manufacturing, and Ashok Oza of Saro Engineering Limited.
One aspect of farming, which I still felt had not been adequately attended to, was irrigated agriculture. I was aware that special programmes had been designed in the past in order to finance irrigated farming, in particular for special crops such as flowers and vegetables. However, the earlier financing schemes by the Zambian Government and financial institutions benefitted mostly the expatriate commercial farmers in the semi-urban areas.
It was clear that once these farmers made their money, they diversified into other enterprises or left the country. This time around, Lima Bank management, against the Board’s resistance, was keen to try some Zambian farmers with the latest centre pivot irrigation technology.
Louis Chilala was a renowned and prosperous farmer close to Mazabuka Town, having successfully applied the loans he got from commercial banks. One of his sons, Costain Chilala, abandoned studies at UNZA in preference to becoming a full-time farmer in the Mkushi Block. The old man affectionately talked about his son, who loved farming and who had taken after him. I knew the family through an introduction by Japhet Choombe, who was my brother in-marriage and manager of the Dairy Produce Board in Mazabuka.

Costain Chilala

During one of my farm tours, my team was hosted by budding farmer Chilala at his Mkushi farm. He had started to develop some irrigation farming drawing water from the nearby Lunsemfwa River. He was already showing the same traits of successful farming as his father. I, therefore, picked Costain Chilala as a suitable guinea pig for my vision in large-scale irrigated farming.
I had seen and admired large irrigation farms in Brazil, Iraq, and the USA during my tours and had planned irrigation projects of various sizes while in government. I was convinced that Zambia’s future was in agriculture and in particular in irrigated farming.
President Kaunda kept lamenting about the millions of litres of water that mocked at him as they flowed in various rivers to the oceans. I was determined to banish the shame of the Head of State. With my involvement, we had already trapped billions of litres of water at Mazabuka and at Mpongwe for the irrigation of thousands of hectares of sugarcane, soya beans and flowers.
I summoned Chilala to my office and introduced my plan to him. He was initially reluctant to commit himself to a large loan at the time. I explained to him about the easy-to-use modern centre pivot irrigation technology and assured him that with the waters of the perennial Lunsenfwa River, he would succeed.
After some months of persuasion and hesitation, Chilala agreed to append his signature to a loan application form, which had been already filled with the assistance of the branch manager of our new Mkushi Branch, on my instructions. Chilala’s loan application, for two centre pivots, was deferred twice by the board due to strong objections from some board members.
Lawrence Bwalya, representing ZIMCO Limited, was one of the board members who felt that the loan was being recommended on personal and tribal basis as Chilala and I were Tongas. Although I got offended with this insinuation, I decided not to be diverted from my plan and give up. My appeal to senior officers at ZIMCO was favourably considered and the application approved by the board of Lima Bank.
In spite of loan funds being readily available, Chilala had to overcome a series of obstacles in order to get the project off the ground. At some point, he camped in Lusaka for days just to get an appointment with a public officer who was responsible for issuing water permits. While millions of litres of water were cascading over the Muchinga Escarpment and ‘mocking’ President Kaunda, approving a permit to farmer Chilala to extract water for irrigation was proving near impossible.
While I had appreciated the objection by ZESCO to allow extraction of additional water at Nakambala, due to the large quantity, I did not understand the resistance to grant a permit to farmer Chilala. After visiting the equipment suppliers in the USA, Chilala realized the ease of operating the modern technology and he became resolute and more determined to implement the project.
Finally, the two centre pivots of the new irrigation technology were installed and they set Chilala on the path to becoming a successful commercial farmer. By 2006, Chilala had installed forty-two centre pivots at his Chimsoro Farms. Regrettably, the ZIMCO board member, who was against my plan was not available to visit Chimsoro Farms to see the fruits of my Tonga experiment.
Chimsoro Farms cultivated the second largest irrigated fields after the Nakambala Sugar Estates at Mazabuka. Maize yields of over six tonnes (120 bags) per hectare and wheat yields of eight tonnes per hectare by Chimsoro Farms, beat even those achieved at crop research stations. Chimsoro Farms produced ten per cent of Zambia’s grain requirements. This meant that, Zambia needed only ten farmers of Chilala’s proficiency and size for the country’s grain needs to be met. This has been my vision.
Costain Chilala was decorated with a Medal of Distinguished Service by the president of the Republic of Zambia for his contribution to the country’s food security in October 2002. As he walked with pomp on the grounds of State House, I could see that he was relishing the deserved thunderous ovation. Although I was not invited to the ceremony, due to politics and watched the ceremony on television in our lounge, less than one kilometer away from State House, I felt proud to have been a designer and creator of an indigenous Zambian medal-winning farmer.

With the combined financial support of Lima Bank and the DBZ, the number of Zambian farmers practising irrigated farming in the semi-urban areas increased and both floriculture and vegetable farming thrived in Zambia”, from “The Depth of My Footprints”.

Ng’andu Peter Magande is former Minister of Finance and National Planning.


One Response to How Magande helped to make Chilala the best black farmer in Zambia

  1. Magande impresses as a risky taker and open minded when faced with challenges thus his success at ACP organization and Ministry of Finance and National Planning. One encounter with Magande’s progressive mind I always recall was meeting him at the Trade Fair when he chided officers in the Agriculture pavilion for failing to provide crop forecast data because “When making your budgets the only things that seem to attract your interest are vehicles to be personalized by the many of you yet if you pooled all the resources you allot to procuring vehicles and instead channeled them to acquisition of a small plane or helicopter even two, then flying them over national transects it would easily provide the ministry with the critical data needed to grow the agriculture sector!”

    Come to think of it, in Zambia it seems only certain departments or ministries can own/fly planes i.e. Wildlife, Police, Health (Flying Doctor service) and, defense forces yet the colonials did operate planes for the Natural Resources, Agriculture (aerial spraying), statistical office all for snap surveys! Well probably with improved satellite technology advances maybe different kind of investment has overtaken applicable procurements.

    July 1, 2018 at 9:59 pm

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