Ngabaghila Chatata had always dreamed of finding a solution to the importation of high value vegetables in the country.
She also had dreams of becoming self-employed by the age of 40 and farming turned out to be an option.
By the year 2012, Chatata founded Thanthwe Enterprise along with her husband and got it registered in 2013.
The enterprise is an Agribusiness venture specialising in horticulture, agri-tourism, livestock and knowledge management through research, trainings and consulting.
The idea stemmed from her family’s love for vegetables, which led to exploring how to grow some that are normally imported by the country’s super markets.
She says that experiment has grown into a successful agribusiness that employs climate smart technologies, including green house and drip irrigation.
“We are also suppliers of greenhouses. Our model urban farm hosts visitors to appreciate modern farming methods and this has turned out to inspire many to consider farming as a business and changed their perception on agriculture.
“As a woman-led business, it has sent a positive message to other women and it is also a model of how couples can partner in business. We are a living example of how one can prosper in farming without prior training in agriculture,” explains the social sciences graduate.
The mother of four recently came first in the entrepreneurship awards by Small and Medium Enterprises Development Institute (Smedi).
The awards, according to the organisation’s public relations officer, Mian Mpesi were aimed at appreciating SMEs for the good job they are doing.
“Many entrepreneurs are doing a good job, but they are not appreciated. Chatata is doing a lot of things that other entrepreneurs could emulate. Her business is registered, and she is tax compliant.
“Apart from that, she is now going into value addition. She has employed 20 people, both men and women, helping to reduce unemployment rates in the country. All these are things we would like to see local entrepreneurs do and that is why she was well deserving of the award,” she says.
For the agricultural enthusiast, the Smedi entrepreneurship award has served as an encouragement in Chatata’s entrepreneurship journey.
“I was just doing what I love to do and being recognised and awarded made me realise that we have a job to do – to inspire upcoming entrepreneurs as they look up to me. I also realise that it’s a call to represent the voice of SMEs so that they are heard and supported accordingly. SMEs are key in the development of Malawi,” she explains.
The same day that she received the Smedi award, Chatata also got an award from Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building Agriculture (Ruforum) as an outstanding farmer.
“It was a humbling experience to be recognised at the regional level,” she says.
With a model farm at Likuni in Lilongwe, Thanthwe Enterprises has a green house area of 1 700 square meters and five acres open field irrigated land.
It produces 50 tonnes of high value vegetables annually, including sweet peppers, sweet melons, tomatoes, cucumber and mushrooms. They use climate smart drip irrigation and mulching to maximise productivity per unit area of land.
The 38-year-old left her full time job in November 2015 to focus on her business and Thanthwe has been registering growth ever since.
Her biggest target is to grow it to its full potential.
Chatata now aims at stepping into agro-processing and manufacturing..
The enterprise’s products are sold locally in the high end markets, including five star hotels and super markets. They are now exploring export markets.
Born Ngabaghila Mwakisulu on June 8, 1979, she is married to Dziko Chatata, the co-founder and together they are parents to Wakisa, Thanga, Joshua and Isaac.
“I have clearly defined my roles, I know when I am a wife, a mother and the managing director. I know better than to mix up the roles. I create time for all those roles and work on them. I also try to put up a good support system and I always create time to relax and enjoy the company of my family,” she says.
She was born at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre to the Late Winnie and Late Austin Mwakisulu.
Chatata is a Bachelors Degree holder in Social Sciences, with Sociology major. She has professional experience in non-governmental and civil society organisations where she worked as programme coordinator for Action Aid urban governance programme in Lilongwe and national coordinator for Water and Environmental Sanitation Network among other positions.
The entrepreneur is an expert in community mobilisation, strategic planning, governance, women’s rights, livelihood programming, resource mobilization and partnerships management.
She is the chairperson for Lilongwe Horticultural Farmers Cooperative. Chatata sits on Farmers Union of Malawi’s (FUM) council, representing horticulture and is also in the FUM agribusiness sub-committee.
However, all the success did not come on a silver platter.
“Passion is key. I read a lot and learn from others, including my workers. I enjoy the support of my husband in business and together we make a winning team. I enjoy creativity and constructive debates. I am a go getter. I enjoy making the most of the opportunities around me and love to discuss ideas/solutions. I love to inspire and get inspired,” she says.
There are no roses without thorns, so the saying goes and with all the success comes a number of challenges. For one thing, she is a woman, thriving in agri-preneurship.
However, Chitata says she likes to work and approach her tasks from a professional angle rather than as a woman.
“I find that it is the best way to work in business. This is an approach most people find to be difficult and they always try to find every opportunity to remind me that I am a woman.
“The society we live in always tries to pull you down when you are a woman. But when they realise that you are different, they just have to work with you. I’m very lucky to have a husband who understands that I’m a leader in my own right and just lets me be,” she says.
Chatata sees agribusiness as an exciting and wide value chain. She advises the youth that if they can find their niche and be creative, they can prosper.
She notes that Malawi will only develop if Malawians roll-up their sleeves and start working on developing it.
She calls on the general public to take responsibility and develop the country.
“Let us take responsibility and develop our nation. This has to be at all levels. The Malawian fathers need to rise up to the occasion and lead by example. Mothers ought to rise and nurse this nation. The time is now,” she concludes.