NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka
GROWING up in a family of 11, Canaan Banda knew what it was like to fight for the chicken wing at meal times.
He learnt about business as a boy when he would lend a hand to his mother, Catherine Banda, who traded for a living to supplement his father’s monthly salary.
When he finished his high school education, he couldn’t pursue further studies because he was from a big family with siblings that had competing needs.
He had nine brothers and only one sister, so there was stiff competition for the family’s limited resources.
“It was a humble background and it’s from there that I could see my mum doing a lot through her little business,” Canaan shares.
She sold farm produce at Chifundo market in Kafue Estates; a consistent and serious market in the area.
Canaan’s childhood comprised spending time at the market, helping his mother to sell products like vegetables, tomatoes, sugar cane and chikanda or African polony.
She would order those products from a place called Great Chilumba in Kafue.
Canaan and his siblings took turns helping their mother sell at the market.
“Of course, we were a bit resistant when it came to selling at the market, but we were forced to do so because we had no way out,” he says.
The money from market sales got them through hard days.
Canaan’s father, Poston Banda, worked as the head of security at Indeco Estates Development Company and his salary was not adequate to cater for their huge family, so his mother had to make up for what his father’s salary could not cover.
Canaan and his siblings helped their mother on a rotational basis and their time was collectively spent at school, at home and at the market.
Despite helping their mother at the market, school was still a priority for Canaan and siblings. As a matter of fact, their mother wouldn’t let them miss any classes.
As a young boy, he learnt how to convince customers to buy their products and his business sense slowly began to grow.
When he finished high school, Canaan got a job as a site supervisor at a Catholic Church project in Kafue. That job lasted four years before the entrepreneurial bug began to tug at him really strongly.
“The rice idea came about in 2008. My friends noticed I had written out a small business plan and was researching different businesses,” he recalls.
One of his friends thought he would be interested in the rice business. Canaan thought long and hard about it but was sceptical about experimenting with the idea in Western Province, where the market was already congested.
Understanding Canaan’s concerns, his friend instead suggested the rice market in the Muchinga town of Chama.
Beginning in 2009, Canaan began gathering information on rice. He researched the rice trade in Chama and received information on it from personal sources based there.
In 2011, three years after he began his research on rice, he decided to take a trip to Chama for the first time.
He bought his rice, transported it to the milling point, and had it graded.
After processing the rice in Chama, he was able to transport and package it before selling it. He wanted to have a feel of the whole process for a better idea of what the business involved and told his wife honestly that he didn’t think he wanted to work for anyone.
She was hesitant at the beginning but Canaan convinced her otherwise. He had after all spent four years without a formal job and they had not died of hunger.
Being the handyman he is, projects kept him going and he saw no reason to let his business vision die.
The word “rice” became part of his everyday vocabulary. He talked about it like a man would about a woman he can’t keep his mind off.
“People were telling me to find something else to do other than the rice,” he says, emphasising just how much the rice idea had taken over his life.
In 2016, he entered the Nyamuka Zambia business plan competition for the first time using his rice processing idea but did not even make it into the semi-finals.
The competition is designed for start-up businesses with a total prize fund of K1,275,000.
Last year, he again applied with exactly the same business plan. The only difference this time was while he submitted the first application in handwritten format, his second application was submitted in soft copy.
“I simply changed the way of filling in the information,” he says. “That was the only thing that changed and I found myself in the semi-finals.”
There were 10 coveted spots, which each carried a range of cash prizes, and once Canaan made the top 10 shortlist, he was determined to make it as a finalist in the top three.
He had a lot of confidence in his business plan and was certain he could defend it successfully before a selected panel of judges.
The only thing that kept him on edge was not knowing the business ideas of his fellow contestants.
“People were not sharing what they were doing, so you couldn’t give a judgement about your opponent,” he explains.
Canaan was convinced, though, that somehow he had the winning idea. It took him seven years in the making after all.
Currently, Zambia is facing a deficit of between 15,000 and 20,000 metric tonnes of rice yearly, which is being covered by rice imports.
Canaan knew this was justification for his business plan, which until that point, he had been unable to realise fully because of financial constraints.
He had suffered many setbacks in his business journey but here, Canaan was now on the cusp of victory; a win would propel him forward and was just the thing he needed to take him to the next level.
Remarkably, he was shortlisted in the final three. To prepare himself, he pitched his business idea in front of his five-year-old son, exciting the boy by telling him that he was going to share a story with him about rice.
That pitch would eventually make him the winner of the K250,000 grand prize in October 2017.
Since his win, Canaan has been preoccupied with setting up a rice plant in Chama and working closely with Nyamuka Zambia to make wise investment decisions.
“I have a business development mentor assigned to me by Nyamuka Zambia, who I will be working with over the next one year,” he shares.
His company is called Chaca Rice Processing Initiative and he intends to upgrade it to a company limited by shares in the near future.
He has since bought an automated combined rice mill with his winnings; a machine he says can process rice without much physical labour involved.
Canaan is a bona fide self-starter, who does not believe in using the word “impossible”. He says a hero just knows a thing can be done one way or another.
When he wants to do something, he sees it through and if it fails, he simply tells himself that it is not the end.
NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka