TUZINI farms founder and Chief Executive Maria Zaloumis-Mwelwa, a wife, mother and tomato guru has earned about US$2 million dollars profit from her agri-business.
Mrs Mwelwa is a holder of a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from Australia Catholic University, Master’s Degree of Science in cardiology from Wesley Hospital in Brisbane and plans on pursuing a degree in agronomy.
However, she has created over 62 job opportunities to the local youths and generates a daily gross income of over US$500.
The renowned nurse started her first job at the age of 18 in Australia where she worked for 12 years after which she saved up $30,000 which she used as startup capital in her farming journey.
She then returned to Zambia in 2015 and took up her father’s farm who had an illness that affected his brain and couldn’t continue farming on his small-scale farm due to his condition.
Maria then took over the farm in 2016 and started with half a hectare of tomatoes and has since expanded to over 13 hectares. From the 13 hectares, she harvests between 250 and 400 boxes of tomatoes on a daily basis giving her approximately daily revenue of $500 (about K5,000) at the lowest price of K50 per box.
Mrs Mwelwa, who has nicknamed herself as the ‘Zed farmer’, first started supplying her tomatoes at Soweto market which is one of Lusaka’s large and busiest market, she has since grown to become the major supplier of tomatoes to Freshmark (Shoprite) countrywide as well as Kasumbalesa boarder post. She supports local markets and supplies to Ndola’s masala market, Kitwe’s chisokone market to mention but a few.
The young emerging farmers’ initiative ambassador recently signed a $100,000 partnership with Musika in order to enable farmers to have market linkage as well as cold storage facilities in growing of their crops.
Furthermore, she is an African Pride Insurance Ambassador and national chairperson for fruits and vegetables under the Zambia National Farmers Union.
Mrs Mwelwa has four greenhouses for onion and has a pilot project for MRI seed for cabbage and seedlings and recently launched a new variety of tomato seedlings called Naetenella from Israel.
And the tomato guru said to every journey there is a stepping stone as no business starts successful, hiccups should be accepted as they come and one must know how to stand up and try again.
The ‘Zed Farmer’ pointed out the importance of preparedness to fail whenever you venture in business adding that she made a lot of mistakes at the beginning of her journey as a farmer such as not applying fertilizer to the crops in good time as well as spraying chemicals and from that she learnt a lot.
“When you fail, do not stay in the same place or think of giving up but rather get up and try again as I did. I remember some years back when the price of tomatoes dropped as low as K20 per box and I could not pay my workers that was a huge blow that pushed me to an extent of borrowing money. It was a painful moment but I picked myself up and tried to do the same thing again”, she said remorsefully.
“To be a successful business personnel never think of staying down whenever you fall instead think of how to rise up and try again”, the tomato guru smiled.
The Zed Farmer has since encouraged and advised everyone that reads her story to never give up but try. She also pointed out the importance of saving the little amount earned from the business one decides to undertake.
“Savings are very important, in my earnings I make sure I serve at least 10% while I also offer 10% as a tithe. I have no time for partying as I spend almost every day from 04 to 18 hours in the fields”, she said.
In the next five years, she wishes to venture into farm produce value addition by processing tomatoes and sun-dried tomatoes which will be for export to the international market as well as create over 1000 job opportunities to Zambian youths.