Zindaba Hanzala is demystifying the misconceptions of what a beauty queen can achieve when her reign is over through her work at Mulimi; a social enterprise equipping Zambian farmers with the necessary tools to succeed in an increasingly difficult agricultural landscape.
The time spent with her grandmother, whose livelihood depended on the harvest produced from small-scale farming, served as an inspiration for a young Hanzala. She recalls this period as her earliest interaction with agriculture. And though she has never considered herself to be much of an academically oriented person, somehow she always managed to stay awake in her agriculture classes in her hometown of Kabwe, Zambia. The eldest of four, and the child of an artist and homemaker, Hanzala moved to Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city, after graduating from secondary school for a short stint at ShopRite, a leading South African food retailer. Although she quit the job after realising it was not the right fit, being exposed to the agriculture industry for the second time through her work with the company stuck with her. Hanzala worked a string of odd jobs before finding her passion for marketing, becoming one of the top salespersons at MTN Zambia.
Life took an unexpected turn for Hanzala when she decided to audition for Miss Zambia, the largest beauty pageant in the country. With kinky hair and a tomboy personality, a preference for flat shoes over heels, she never felt she would be considered the prettiest in the room. “One of my bosses gave me the money to enter the competition and I thanked him by taking home the grand prize,” she exclaims. Hanzala won Miss Zambia in 2010, and with the coronation, came opportunities. After her one-year stint as a beauty queen, she was recommended for the role of a liaison officer at Elliot and Harrison, an American company that specialises in commodities export. She was responsible for managing the company’s imports and exports, organising commodities in Zambia—maize and beans—to be exported to Angola. This was her third interaction with agriculture and one she has described as an eye-opening experience because it was during this period that she noticed the discrepancies between what the farmers were getting paid for their produce, compared to the price buyers were actually selling them and the high profit margins. It did not make sense that people in the food chain industry were making so much profit, yet the people producing the food did not have access to vital services like health care or bank loans. This would prompt her to capitalise on the connections she had made in the agricultural industry and leverage her network for good. And try to aid small-scale farmers to become bankable which would allow them to enter formal markets and secure the funding to help them scale their businesses by starting Mulimi.
Mulimi is a social enterprise that provides agricultural extension services, market information, market linkages, managerial support and access to financial services to emerging farmers. And they are able to bring together stakeholders from the agriculture value chain to their platform to provide the right support to those in their network. One of Mulimi’s core values is sustainability. “For me sustainability means having all the players valued and working together,” Hanzala explains. In homage to her grandmother, a woman who always helped everyone around her and never had proper healthcare, this is her way of giving back to the community. “What we need to ask ourselves is how we can make the lives of farmers better, how do we make production better, and find ways to mitigate production loss,” says Hanzala. As regards financially assisting farmers, she emphasises that money comes in many forms such as business or technical support.
In Zambia many farmers are not made aware of the existing tailor-made insurance policies that could greatly benefit them, particularly in moments of great loss as a result of climatic changes such as drought or tax exemption when purchasing equipment. “It’s important to look at farming as a business, and so you need to find ways to protect your business,” says Hanzala. As such, one of the areas Mulimi helps farmers is to evaluate how they can generate profit. What makes Mulimi unique is their goal to equip farmers with the necessary tools that will enable them to scale up and contribute to creating a robust agro-ecosystem. And this is achieved through its holistic internship programme, designed to give farmers access to qualified personnel to assist and provide the right labour required on the farm.
Working with an unskilled labour force has proven costly and become a prevalent challenge found in the agriculture sector in Zambia. Mulimi aims to change this and works with students by giving them the opportunity to gain hands-on experience on a farm; enabling them to develop first-hand knowledge about the logistics of running a farm business. Hanzala points out this programme is important because “Oftentimes, people do not have access to the information Mulimi is able to share with its network and the students it trains.” To this end, they have made the programme part of their sustainability model, bringing the technical know-how directly to the farmers, making it a core element of their technical support pillar. They also give the farmers an opportunity to host students as interns. Students are trained and prepared for the role, so they go to their various posts ready to be hired after the internship. This helps them to develop a sense of belonging and the motivation to do well.
Next on Mulimi’s to-do list, launch its digital market platform. A project Hanzala is excited about because they have been working on it for the past three years, and are currently seeking strategic partnerships that will enable them to get their digital product to the market. This will help buyers to carry out transactions with the farmers directly, and with ease.
Hanzala has come a long way from beauty queen to an entrepreneur. She also did not give up on her dreams of motherhood either. And that part of her life has come with its own challenges, one of which is finding balance. “Juggling marriage, motherhood and a business was not a subtle feat. I went from living off sandwiches all day to planning meals for my family, which was not easy,” she says. As much as she was focused on building her career, she also wanted her children to have a similar childhood experience to what she had growing up, so for the first couple of years she homeschooled them. She admits that trying to balance motherhood with business was indeed a tough task, and Mulimi experienced a few setbacks during this period. It was also the time of her entrepreneurship journey that gave her clarity, she realised they did not have a business model that was generating revenue. Hanzala says she knew it was time to scale up and rebrand Mulimi as a social enterprise.
Hanzala tells AMAKA she has had to deal with people’s preconceived ideas of who they think she is. “Before people see me as an intellectual or an equal, they see me as a beauty queen,” she says. “It is quite a challenge to be a woman in an industry, where men make up 90%.” As a female entrepreneur she has come to realise that women have been raised in a culture that teaches them to be humble and dissuades them from boasting about their triumphs and achievements in a manner that men normally would. She is keen to point out it is important men support women in their business endeavours. “There are several donor funded projects targeted at women which is great but as a wife I can say that when you give a woman land and money, beyond empowerment, spousal support is necessary.”
“As women we have to get out there and take action,”
Winner of the 2019 Stanbic Anakazi Woman of the Year in Agriculture, Hanzala wants to use her platform to highlight the gender disparity in agriculture, especially the issue of land ownership. Culture still plays a major role and dictates who gets to own land, a common practice across some African nations. In Zambia, women are taught that they have equal rights with men. However, it is still the prevailing belief that men are entitled to the land. “This is true in both the villages and the suburbs,” and it is something Hanzala wants to see changed. “I believe the government should create a policy that encourages women to own land. But that does mean we have to wait for the policymakers to do something about it. As women we have to get out there and take action,” she says. She hopes to change the narrative for her daughters and raise her sons to treat their partners equally.
To ensure better policies for everyone, Hanzala believes it is paramount to actually sit down with the farmers. It is her view that the key stakeholders have not been given a seat at the table. “What the government needs to do is work with organisations such as Mulimi, who are on the ground, who know what the farmers need and are able to bring everyone into the same space. More than that they need to educate farmers,” she adds.
The stage is set for change, and technology has helped bridge the gap for women. Looking at the success of Mulimi and the number of women who hold seats in positions of power within the agriculture industry, one hopes to see more women like Zindaba Hanzala breaking the glass ceiling.