April Farmer of the month Mrs Ngabaghila Chatata

Ngaba in her greenhouse

Image: Mrs Ngaba in her green house

Mrs Ngabaghila Chatata is one of the leading horticulturist in Malawi growing high value vegetables. Operating in Likuni, about 20km outside the capital Lilongwe, Ngaba, as she is affectionately known, started farming in 2012 on a part time basis when she cofounded Thanthwe Enterprises, trading as Thanthwe Farms.

This move was motivated by her desire to contribute to the Malawi food basket and inspire others to consider farming as a viable business. She is the Managing Director of the business which she owns with her husband. Thanthwe is an innovative agribusiness venture specialising in horticulture, livestock, agritourism and business incubation (business plan/ proposal development, farm business rollout, training hosting and facilitation, and research collaboration).

Thanthwe also supplies greenhouses. The farm produces about 100 tons of vegetables including sweet peppers, sweet melons, tomatoes, cucumber and mushrooms per annum. The farm currently supplies the local market, targeting five-star hotels and supermarkets. Recently Thanthwe has partnered with Mothers Choice and opened an outlet for meat, fruit and vegetables under the name Daily Fresh.

Ngaba left fulltime employment in 2015 to focus entirely on the farm. Since then, the business has been registering growth and will soon be supplying export markets as it continues to expand. The farm, which produces under a greenhouse and open field, also hosts students for practical training or internships to make them employable.

As part of the agritourism business, the farm hosts learning tours for a minimum of 300 visitors annually who include aspiring farmers, students and researchers at a fee. The business also runs an outgrower scheme reaching out to 100 neighboring smallholder farmers who are supported with capacity building on farming technologies and farm inputs. As she did not have an agricultural background when she started farming, Ngaba learned about farming from other farmers and by doing research on the internet, and by actually “doing”. She attributes her success to openness to learning, reaching out for knowledge and enthusiasm.

Her advice to those who want to take up farming is “be focused, pursue your dream and always seek knowledge. Take ownership for failure and pursue solutions”. She holds a Bachelor of Social Sciences in Sociology, and worked as National Coordinator for Water and Environmental Sanitation Network for six years and as Programme Coordinator with ActionAid for four years.

Her life purpose is to inspire the youth and women to take up agriculture as a business and contribute to the transformation of communities surrounding them. Ngaba has received recognition for her work in farming in and outside Malawi. In 2017, she received the Best Small Medium Enterprise Award from the Small Medium Enterprise Development in Malawi and the Outstanding Lead Farmer Award from the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RURORUM).

She is also a recipient of the Market and Business Linkage grant from the African Development Bank. Her involvement in agriculture is beyond her farm. She is the current President of Lilongwe Horticultural Farmers’ Cooperative Ltd (HOFACOL) played an instrumental role in its establishment, Vice Secretary of Commercial Farmers Cooperative and a member of Farmers’ Union of Malawi’s (FUM) Committee on Agribusiness and Marketing and Council (representing the horticulture sector).

She is also an Alumni of the African Women Entrepreneurship Programme (AWEP) and a member of African Agribusiness Academy as well as Women Creating Wealth of the Graca Machel Trust.