Ploughing the road to greener pastures, literally!

By Kaula Nhongo
August 2012
Women in Business
When Melba Tjozongoro got married some years ago, her father gave her 20 goats to start a new life. Her father gave her the goats because she had always been involved in looking after them while growing up.

Today, Tjozongoro has 185 goats and 95 sheep.

In 1997, she decided to further her knowledge on farming and obtained a national diploma in agriculture from Neudamm Agricultural College; an achievement she holds dear to her heart.

She then joined the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry in 1999 where she was and still is involved in overseeing the welfare of farmers in the Gobabis area.

The now proud owner of a farm is most rural women’s envy as she makes about half a million every auction season when she sells her livestock.

Even though in the beginning, Tjozongoro’s husband, who is in the grocery business, was a bit sceptical about the livestock business, she did not let that discourage her.

Instead, she took the bull by the horns and sourced for more goats and sheep from her loved ones.

“Friends and relatives lent me their pregnant sheep and goats, which I returned after the animals gave birth. I, in fact, raised most of my start-up capital by doing that,” she relates.

The mother of six is an accomplished farmer, a wife and a business woman; titles she has held and balanced very well.

With only two people helping her, Tjozongoro uses a hands-on approach to stay actively involved in farming activities.

Tjozongoro’s day starts at six in the morning where she makes a fire and attends to the kraals even before taking a cup of tea.

“I make my rounds to ‘greet’ the goats and sheep; a routine I was taught by my father, which each farmer has to follow - I check if any irregularities might have happened during the night. I also like seeing how goats get up, stretch and the way goat kids run to enjoy themselves in their mothers’ udders,” she explains.

Although she is already making a mark in the agriculture sector, she believes that there is still a lot to be done to be the best female farmer in Namibia.

She faced many obstacles in the beginning as she was not making any profit. “As usual, new business inputs are higher than the outputs, especially during lambing. I had to buy surrogate milk to assist ewes that had little milk. The weaning time was a struggle on its own too, to feed the lambs for better prices for them,” she says.

It is only now that she gets funding from the Agricultural Bank of Namibia (Agribank) in order to reach her targeted mark.

All this effort and hard work has not gone unnoticed, as Tjozongoro was recently crowned 2012 Cheetah Conservation Farmer of the Year at a lavish event at the Windhoek Country Club.

It has not been easy juggling between her full-time job, her farming and her family but because she does something she loves, she says, “While on duty, I interact with other farmers and in the process, I gain some knowledge from their experiences. I am blessed to be doing all the things I love.”

In her quest to keep contributing to the agriculture sector, she has become the voice of the farmers in Gobabis.

“The approach we use is a bottoms-up one; meaning the farmers have to come up with their needs, seek advice and be assisted to find viable solutions to their problems. The only problem is, farmers only visit our offices when they are faced with huge problems,” she laments.

In this world of hard labour and sweat, Tjozongoro finds herself at the centre of it all. Her contribution to the agriculture sector in the country comes at a time when agriculture contributes 17% to the country’s GDP.

Her story is that of determination and hard work; rising from a nobody to a somebody. PF