Tanzania: How Avocado Turned Into 'Green Gold' for Njombe Ex-Sweeper

Njombe — When Steven Mlimbila, alias Nemes, (35), lost his job as an office cleaner way back in 2007, he could see nothing but a bleak future.

Having been brought up in a community which believes that success is a prerogative of only those who have excelled academically, a flashback to when he dropped out of school while in Standard 7 came to his mind.

Little did he know that quitting a cleaner's job that paid him a monthly salary of only Sh45,000 at the time was the best way to start his own business that would ultimately earn him respect among the respected.

"I was fired for reporting late at my work-place," Mr Nemes - who expects to earn Sh500 million from sales of avocado fruits and seedlings this year - told The Citizen in an interview.

He was fired after arriving late at his working place for a second time.

"When I arrived late for the first time, I was warned. When I arrived late for the second time, I was told not to step into the place again," he recalls, refusing to reveal the name of his former employer.

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Making a living with a Sh45,000 monthly salary was not a walk in the park for Nemes... Or, indeed, for anyone!

"At that time, I was already married. My wife and I already had kids. At some point, we could go for three months without an income. In fact, I was lucky to have a friend who offered us a free three months stay in his house," he explains - noting that, despite the challenges he faced, he had no intention of quitting the job that he had held for a period of 11 years.

All this is now history. Today's Nemes is completely different from the Nemes of 2007.

Arriving at home on the day that he was fired from his job, Nemes pondered on the next course of action. He pondered on how he would feed his family. Then he decided to establish a garden of seedlings for trees that are largely used in the production of timber.

"I then started selling the seedlings and invested the money I earned in purchasing farmlands. I did that for a long time," he explains.

While things were moving in the right direction with the selling of seedlings, he later met friends who introduced a completely new idea to him: investing in avocado cultivation.

When he gave the nod to his friends' advice, little did he know that this would be the beginning of a journey that was to result in the creation of Nemes Green Garden Limited, a company that gave him a new name in town.

Three years sfter planting his first avocado tree, he started harvesting avocados from his farm. In the event, he become of the first entrants into the production of the fruit in the southern regions of Tanzania.

Horticulture - avocado farming included - is a $700 million-a-year industry in Tanzania, according to figures by the Tanzania Horticultural Association (Taha).

Tanzania earned $179 million in exports of horticultural products in the year that ended on November 30, 2019, a rise from $142.7 million, according to Bank of Tanzania (BoT) figures.

The 'first mover' is a marketing term that explains a service or product that gains a competitive advantage by being the first to market with a product or service.

"So when I started, I came to realize that the market was huge. I then decided to increase production. I invested much of my resources and efforts in learning how to grow avocados. I went to Kenya where I visited a number of modern farms. I copied several things from there," he says, noting that he currently owns farms at Maheve and Kifanya Villages in Njombe District where he grows avocado.

Nemes Green Garden todday employs 40 people, including farm workers and truck drivers who supply avocado seedlings to various clients across Njombe.

"This year, we have produced 75,000 avocado seedlings. The price for each seedling ranges between Sh3,000 and Sh5,000. In short, we will earn Sh300 million through seedling sales alone," he says.

His farm has a total of 2,000 avocado trees. Each tree produces avocados that earn him between Sh300,000 and Sh500,000 per year.

"So you can make your own calculations and see how much I earn. I no longer live a stressful life. My family is now contented," he says. Apart from commercial and residential buildings, Mr Names also owns four vehicles.

"At times, I wonder when I visualize what I have gone through to be where I am today," he explains.

Mr Nemes manages his farm professionally.

"I've employed an extension officer who is my main advisor. He is always working in the farm, ensuring that we remain afloat," says Mr Nemes.

Talk of the town

Mr Nemes' success story has been the talk of Njombe so much that the number of residents who engage in avocado production is rising, according to the CCM deputy chairman for Tanzania-Mainland, Mr Phillip Mangula.

"On December 30 last year, he (Nemes) personally came to my home. He brought me avocado tree seedlings. I am also growing avocados; he inspired me," says Mr Mangula.

During last year's Nane Nane Farmers' Day (August 8, 2019) Nemes emerged 'Best Farmer' the Southern Highlands Zone.

Mr James Kilipamwambo, a resident of Njombe, believes he will also make a fortune if he invests in avocado production.

"I have already bought farms, and my next move is to meet Mr Names from whom to obtain avocado seedlings.

"I am certain that my economic fortunes will have completely changed for the better when you meet me three years from now," he says, exuding confidence.

"The chairman of Avocado Producers Association in Njombe, Mr Erasto Ngole, says the fruit is indeed a money maker.

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