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From white-collar job to farmer

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While, in the mid of climate change-induced harsh conditions, some people sit by and blame God and find other excuses for the hunger, others have found alternative ways of dealing with the situation by adopting irrigation farming.

One such farmer is 48-year-old Lewis Msongole who has made a name for himself and changed the status of his life and that of his family.

Born April 1, 1968, in Chinunkha Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mwaulambia in Chitipa, Msongole traces his great interest to venture into farming to 1985 during his primary school days.

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His dream, however, only came to light in 2008 when he quit his job of 14 years as a primary school teacher to venture into full-time commercial tomato farming. He was still cultivating sweet potatoes and maize for commercial purposes while serving as a teacher.

“Every person has a God-given talent that has been imparted to him or her in one way or the other and I take farming as a talent to me. This is the main reason I decided to fully concentrate on farming after retiring as a civil servant,” Msongole says.

He says the reluctance of many people in the country to exploit many of the different opportunities that are at their disposal but rather prefer to be chasing the wind searching for white-collar jobs.

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“It is unfortunate that this is what society has made us believe and we are passing the same ideology to the young generation. People view farmers as uneducated, less important or insignificant people forgetting that they still need the same farmers to produce food for them.

“On the other hand, these same people are afraid to take risks and start producing for themselves, a thing which can mark the turning point of their lives and that of many other people,” he says.

Msongole explains that being a commercial tomato farmer has earned him a lot of assets such as land and income to pay for his daughter’s studies at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural R e s o u r c e s ’ N a t u r a l Resources College.

He adds: “To make mobility easy to and from the gardens, I bought a pick-up and two Suzuki motorcycles which make the transportation of tomatoes from the gardens to the supply points easier and cheaper.”

He cites high cost of farm inputs such as seeds, pesticides, fertiliser and machinery as major setback facing local farmers in the country.

Msongole says some of the farm inputs such as seeds and pesticides are not properly packaged and stored for farm usage, saying by the time they reach the farmer, they are damaged and/or valueless.

“We have some good locally produced farm inputs such as seeds but in many cases they are very expensive and have a low tolerance to dryness. However, the other problem is [poor] packaging and storage making them easy to be attacked by diseases.

“My plea to the Malawian companies majoring in farm inputs is for them to further improve on the quality of their farm inputs in terms of packaging and other factors that may help enhance the production of tomatoes and other crops in the country,” he says.

Tomatoes are usually affected by a pest called Pin Worm also known as Enterobius Vermicular which attacks leaves by folding and webbing them together, or boring into stems and buds. Msongole said he has recently discovered a way to minimise its attacks.

“I simply use dryness on the field. This pest usually breeds on moist environments, and if one can control the amount of water going into the field, one will simultaneously control the pest,” he says.

It is not a secret that Msongole is reaping the fruits of his hard work. He supplies his tomatoes to Sunbird Lilongwe Capital Hotel, his major buyer of five years.

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