Case Study — Salome Mpongolian

Salome is a good example of what happens when a hard-working entrepreneurial women gains access to the resources to keep expanding her business.

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Salome Mpongolian, 48, is an audacious entrepreneur. “Be the first one to risk taking a step” is her motto.

Salome was born in Morogoro in southern Tanzania. When she was eight years old, her father who worked for the government passed away, leaving behind his wife and nine children. Salome, the fourth child, was sent away to live with an uncle in the most populated city of Tanzania, Dar Es Salaam. Her mother relocated north to Simanjiro District in the Manyara Region, where Salome joined her a few years later. Initially, because they were considered immigrants to the area, they could only farm maize and edible beans on a small plot of land just for their own consumption. Her mother was a brewer and together they ran a small sundry shop where they sold dry-goods like beans, sugar and snacks.

A few years later, Salome became pregnant with her first child so her younger brother who had moved in with them took over the business, and in the time that Salome had her baby and was ready to start work again, she discovered that he had run the business to the ground. Frustrated but undeterred, Salome saw that Chinese motorcycles were starting to flood the market and decided to be the first in her village to open a shop selling petroleum products, like fuel, diesel, petrol and lubricants. “It was easier to track inventory on these than dry items,” she explained.

In the meantime, the local government had started parceling out acreage and Salome’s mother received 30 acres of raw un-cleared land. Over time, they slowly cleared it, farming one to two acres themselves, but they mostly leased out whatever else that was usable. Then, in 2005, Salome’s mother passed and her brother moved away shortly thereafter.

In 2007, Salome also received 20 acres of land, which she slowly began to clear and lease out. When we caught up with Salome in 2018 she was 48, a widow with four children, and had started farming as a business with GAFCo. She first heard about GAFCo’s predecessor QFP in 2012, but only joined an informational meeting in 2014, where she liked what she heard. So in the farming season of 2014-15 she was contracted to grow 20 acres of mung beans as a business.

GAFCo enables entrepreneurially-minded smallholder farmers to grow their farms into sizeable businesses that provide good incomes for their families and employment for others in their communities.

Scaling a farming businesses require two types of ingredients—the hard-working entrepreneurial mindset of the farmer, and GAFCo’s support with capital, inputs, training, and markets. Neither entrepreneurial farmer mindset nor GAFCo’s support on their own would be enough; it’s the combination of the two that makes the difference.

Salome is a good example of what happens when a hard-working entrepreneurial women gains access to the resources to keep expanding her business.   

Even before encountering GAFCo, Salome was an entrepreneur.

Despite her self-evident business ability, and the fact that she owned 20 acres of land, Salome was not able to earn income from farming. Before GAFCo, she only grew maize and beans for her own consumption on one or two acres of land. Salome didn’t have the money to buy seeds, the equipment to farm at scale, or reliable markets to justify investing in the risky business of larger scale farming.

GAFCo made all the difference. Through GAFCo’s 3-in-1 partnership with VisionFund, Salome could borrow money to buy seeds and hire employees to help with harvest. GAFCo makes tractors and precision-planters available so farmers are not limited to farming the land they can prepare and plant with their own labor. And GAFCo provides fixed-price guaranteed contracts for multiple crops, so farmers can be secure in knowing they will have a market for all the good quality crop they can grow.

In her first farming cycle with GAFCo Salome hit a drought year which made for an unsuccessful harvest. The next farming year of 2015-16 she leased an additional 10 acres from a friend and planted a total of 36 acres of food beans. She says her harvest was average but she managed to pay off her previous year’s debt. In the farming year of 2016-17 she learned about crop rotation and grew 29 acres of maize while spending the rest of her time clearing more virgin land. Weather cooperated better that year and she obtained a moderate harvest. Though she yielded 500kg of maize per acre that season, she still had debt to carry forward to the next, but insurance was a new product that GAFCo offered that supplemented her income by paying for an additional 200kg per acre. In the growing season of 2017-18 Salome decided to spread her risk by diversifying her crop. This time, she rented 26 acres and from a total of 50 acres, she grew 30 acres of sorghum and 20 acres of a variety of seed beans purchased from GAFCo because she knew they would yield a higher per-kilogram-profit.

As we thanked Salome and made our way from her field, she hurriedly strapped on a back-pack tank to spray a second round of insecticide to ward off an infestation of the Fall Army Worm in her sorghum. Farming as her main bread and butter has come with a constant string of challenges, from volatile weather conditions to unpredictable circumstances. This year’s unforeseen invasion was purportedly introduced to sub-Saharan African farms by way of South America through food-aid grain destined for Botswana in 2017. No one had ever encountered this new breed of pests or yet tried to treat it in East Africa.

Salome has become a resilient mid-sized businesswoman growing multiple crops on more than 50 acres of land. Salome’s goal is to increase her farm to 150 acres, with GAFCo’s help, enabling her to earn revenue in excess of $30,000 per year with good weather. With a farm that size, not only could Salome provide well for her own children, but she would provide employment for 30 other members of her community. She continues to be positive and entrepreneurial—Salome wants to use the profits from her farming business to fund other new ventures that will provide income and employment to her community. 

“I receive more respect from my fellow villagers,” asserts Salome, “and neighbors are coming to me now as a leader for advice about farming and seeds.” She used to worry about feeding her family, but today her oldest son is already in college studying to be an engineer. “My number one hope is for all my children to receive good schooling and find good jobs - I don’t mind how far they need to travel in order to find them!” As for Salome, she claims that the chief obstacle in growing her business now is securing farming equipment, which she would like to lease, so she can farm without over-exerting herself. “The more I learn,” she says with a grin, “the more I try!”