Ben Chiganze A Bassfisherman’s Approach
LAST year we were invited by our colleague, Solomon Zawe, to fish at a dam close to his farm. In the afternoon we were taken through his feedlots and chicken runs at his farm. This was my first time to
witness 21st century chicken runs managed and owned by my fellow comrade.
Who is Solomon Zawe?
He is affectionately known by some of his colleagues as Soloza or Solomombe.
He is currently chairman of Zimbabwe Poultry Association and Livestock Meat Advisory Council.
Zawe is championing the private public partnerships initiatives in agriculture which would go a long way in increasing productivity and maximum utilisation of
land in Zimbabwe.
Solomon Zawe started his professional life as a diesel mechanic employed by Lomagundi Service Station in Harare. It was during his stint as a full-time journeyman that he burnt his hand with hot water from a radiator in 1996. This marked a turning point in his life.
He thought of cushioning himself from potential occurrence of similar occupational hazards.
One issue became clear to him afterwards there was a compelling need to spread his risk.
After assessing many options, Solomon decided to venture into chickens because that appeared to be the only business that required low capital to start that time. He organised a makeshift chicken run at their family home in Marimba. He used 50 percent of his August salary to purchase stockfeed and 25 chickens.
However, as the number of chickens increased, he encountered new unanticipated challenges. These were lack of working capital, space to breed the chickens and a reliable market for his chickens after every six weeks.
As a young man he had no property to use as collateral when borrowing and no one was willing to risk using their property on his project.
He could only accesses punitive interest rates charged by micro lenders, which restricted the profitability of his venture seriously. Nevertheless he soldiered on.
The moment he exceeded 500 chickens it became a challenge to breed them at their Marimba home.
He found space to rent in Chisipite and started building his chicken runs there. However, after a year the chicken runs became small and he found another place to rent in Borrowdale.
He kept on expanding until he was running chicken farms in Borrowdale, Nyabira and Chisipite.
Solo discovered that breeding above 500 chickens a month required a corresponding sustainable market and he applied to be a contract grower for Irvine’s Chickens. Their stringent breeding process and quality control also helped in shaping his character.
In 2006, Solo faced a new challenge he had not encountered, that is, inflation that was eating into his earnings. He had no time to hedge the Zim dollar he was earning with other baskets of foreign currencies or cars, which were the preoccupation of many of his peers. He did what his peers considered the dumpiest idea — hedging his money in pedigrees.
He started going to the cattle sales every week to buy cows. Today he is the best breeder of pedigree animals which is the most valuable commercial cows in Zimbabwe.
Solo’s formula to success
In 2003, Solomon used to challenge his peers (me included) at the Body Fitness Gym in Harare.
He used to say: “Guys you are not going to be happier and more successful than me because you don’t enjoy work. You spend most of your time on short-term deals. I will grow by using one step at a time approach. I am not worried how long it would take but I will eventually get there.’’
True to his words, Solo grew his chicken business from 25 birds per month, to 50 birds, to 75 birds, until he got to 200 000 birds per month (currently) slowly over a period of 16 years.
The same can be said of his pedigree head. He leveraged on experiences he gained each time to achieve higher success. His journey can be best described as one step at a time. He admitted that this method of raising capital is time consuming and slow. The only advantage of raising capital this way is one retains one’s autonomy.
Solo truly enjoys work. His day starts at 5am and at times ends at 11:30pm. Chickens and his pedigree animals decorate his offices and he has passion to see animals growing which translates into passion for farming.
Solo has extreme love for education. He takes time off during the day to attend seminars on chicken rearing and cattle. He realises that he needs to gain from other people’s experiences elsewhere and has therefore gained by using his experiences and other people’s experience to grow his business hence he won several accolades both as a poultry producer and cattle farmer.
To be where he is, he has had to make a lot of sacrifices. He forgoes a lot of luxuries to be able to attend to his chicken and cattle projects.
His fleet of cars and lorries are for farming purposes only. He does not even have the luxury of owning a double cab truck even if it is a 4x4. He only spent extravagantly on health and education.
He also encountered yet another occupational hazard in the chicken project. A couple of years ago he was shot at his left hand by a suspected law enforcement agent and two accomplices he caught stealing his chickens at his Chisipite farm.
Despite this dark chapter in his life, he never looked back. He has not forgotten to share some of his spoils with the less privileged members of our society.
Every year he holds a Christmas party for disadvantaged children at Tose Respite Care. This year he plans to take these children on a boat cruise on Lake Kariba.
Truly Solo’s journey to achieving excellence and recognition, is a journey of blood, sweat and tears but it is certainly worth emulating.
The writer is a managing consultant at CLC Training International. E-mail email@example.com