Age-Defying Ambition

Originally published on February 18, 2016.

Mwanza displays a metal grain silo that he built as a hygienic alternative to traditional grain storage.
More than thirty minutes’ drive from Zambia’s Southern Province lives Mdala (meaning old man in Tonga language) Mwanza. In stark defiance of his white hair and wrinkled skin, Mwanza walks at an impressive clip and maintains a youthful glint in his eyes. A wood and metal artisan by profession, Mwanza, in his mid-sixties, is one of only six experts in his trade selected to lend his skills for his community’s development under the Sustainable Health and Agriculture for Resilient Populations (SHARP) project.

SHARP is a 23-month project that aims to increase food security, health and disaster-risk reduction in Zambia’s Choma and Kazungula Districts. Implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the project is addressing household food security, improving water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in communities, and strengthening household resilience to disasters. Under the project’s agriculture and food security component, SHARP is promoting effective grain storage through facilitating the production of metal silos and encouraging their use by farmers.

Mwanza saw this project as an opportunity to improve his knowledge of agriculture and improve life for his family. At the time, Mwanza had no idea that a part from improving his farming practices, the project would also help his other businesses. “I have been a carpenter and tinsmith since 1972. I could not imagine that an agriculture project would make such a big difference to my business,” Mwanza said.

In June 2014, together with nine counterparts in the trade, Mwanza took part in a week-long training in Monze area, not far from his Musokotwane home. During the training, Mwanza and his peers learned how to design the metal silos, develop production specifications, and cost, price and market the products. Mwanza emerged among eight artisans, whose work was deemed of superior quality to continue in the project. He later became one of only six artisans who sailed through the next vetting stage, when he successfully built three, well-crafted sample silos to market the new storage facility to farmers.

Metal silos are a major improvement from traditional grain storage facilities which leave the contents vulnerable to pests, rodents, theft, and damage from moisture. These silos are neat and portable, and can store grain for many years without damage. By providing safe and hygienic storage for produce, metal silos not only guarantee food security for these households, but also allow farmers flexibility on when to sell their grain, enabling them to fetch better prices in the market.

Since the training, Mwanza has built more than 17 metal silos, selling a total of nine in the span of just one month. At a production speed of one silo per day and with each silo selling for 300 Zambian Kwacha (approx. $40) each, Mdala Mwanza’s workshop is in business. “Business is good. The metal silos are attracting clients for my carpentry business too,” Mdala Mwanza explains. “Earlier today, I attended a cooperative meeting to market the silos. There seems to be a lot of interest and I expect many more customers,” he adds.

With new clients on the horizon, Mwanza is proud to know he can continue to work and produce well into his golden years.