BY PAUL NDIHO
This is a fascinating story about a Zambian woman, a trained nurse and cardiologist in Australia, who quit her medical career and moved back to southern Africa to launch Tuzini Farms, a commercial farming company that specializes in growing tomatoes.
Being passionate about your work is a major key to being successful — and Maria Zelina Zaloumis is no exception.
“I love farming it’s a passion and a hobby—Farming is very addictive, and I plant every day.”
It was that passion that triggered her to revive her family’s half hectare tomato farm after her father became too sick to continue as its manager.
“I came back here, and I wasn’t satisfied with what I saw in the public hospital especially the availability looking after people as you know it’s my job I also wanted to change in career. So I changed it and these plants are very similar to my profession when I’m looking at I’m looking at plants, I am looking at people. They need nutrients, they need water, need food, and finally, they make children who are the tomato.”
With a small amount of savings from her old job, Maria has now turned her family farm into a commercially viable and profitable business.
“I have five different varieties on the farm. This variety I grow according to the market, so I grow for the supermarkets, as well as your regular markets. For example, this red tomato and I grow it according to the season in winter and summer. This is the quality of the tomato, and I only take it off when its blood red.”
Dubbed Zambia’s “Tomato Queen” and the nation’s youngest commercial farmer, Zuloumis has her sights set on expansion. Today, the Tuzuni tomato farm employs over 40 workers and brings in about $800 dollars a day.
“My main aim is to reduce the poverty that’s happening especially in my country in Zambia there’s a lot of poverty, there’s a lot of unemployment, there’s a lot of crime, so by giving people jobs, I am empowering them to become better in Life.”
Maria admits that she doesn’t have any formal training or background in farming, so she depends on the advice of Remmy Mayinga her Syngenta agronomist — a crop growing expert — on what species to grow and how to effectively manage the farm.
“I come down to the farm and do the scouting, and I go field by field trying to identify the problem and sit down with Maria. Draw up the spray program, look at what type of chemicals she has in stock and what is needed. The help I am rendering to her is some technical advice and some fertilization and how she is supposed to keep the crop and get high yields.”
Mayinga is also farmer, and he says Zambian youth should change their mindset about agriculture and go into farming.
“I want to empower the youth to go into farming. There is money in agriculture than waiting to get a salary at the end of the every month.”
Like any start-up company, the Tuzini farm is not without its challenges. For example, price fluctuations, the weather and getting the tomatoes to the marketplace can be a challenge, but Maria remains confident.
“What inspired me was when I came on a half a hectare, I saw the potential that the farm could have. I wanted to invest the money that I came back within something lucrative, and farming was the way to go, and I enjoy it it’s just the passion that I have.”
For young people wishing to get into farming, her advice is to be willing to get their hands dirty. Maria’s dream is to build the next tomato processing plant so she will be able to export her tomatos across region to other African countries and beyond.