DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka
AHAT is the fastest way to scale a business? Find something old, add a modern twist, and send it back out into the world.This is exactly what Mutoba Ngoma, 33, founder of Tapera Industries Limited does.
He turns used vegetable oils into biodiesel fuel for cars and natural soaps for laundry and personal use.
Mr Ngoma, a trained aircraft engineer is one of Africa’s young entrepreneurs that made it onto the 2016 Forbes list of Africa’s most promising entrepreneurs under the age of 35.
Mr Ngoma was retrenched in 2009 by Zambian Airways after working for two years as an aircraft maintenance planner.
But the retrenchment gave birth to Tapera Industries Limited.
“I was already processing vegetable oils into biodiesel fuel for cars and selling it to my colleagues at work. So, my response to the retrenchment was to continue my activity as a business and start expanding my operations. I have been self-employed since then,” Mr Ngoma says.
Born on January 30, 1985, Mr Ngoma did his secondary school at Matero Boys Secondary School in Lusaka, and then went to complete his secondary school in Nairobi, Kenya at St Mary’s School.
Thereafter, he went to the United Kingdom to study manufacturing engineering and aircraft engineering.
Born to Edna Ngoma and Captain Gilbert Ngoma, he is the first of the five children in the family.
“I wanted to be an astronaut to explore space since I was about 6 years old because I was fascinated by programmes on television about aliens and science. This passion drove me to pursue studies that can lead to aeronautics, hence the aircraft engineering that I studied,” Mr Mutoba says.
His dream had been for him to one day work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
NASA is an independent agency of the executive branch of the United States federal government responsible for the civilian space programmes, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research.
Unfortunately, he did not qualify because he studied in the United Kingdom as opposed to studying in the United States.
Realisng this, he focused on other opportunities such as getting a job in Africa once done with his studies. This saw him coming back to Zambia in 2006 where he started his research into biodiesel fuel production before going to join Zambian Airways Limited a year later.
What drives him?
“I am inspired by achievers who find alternative routes to success such as Aliko Dangote of the Dangote Group, Khalid Mohammed of Trade Kings group and Richard Branson of the Virgin group because these achievers built their industries from the ground up,” Mr Ngoma says.
Mr Ngoma says he enjoys the creativity of manufacturing.
“I have always loved to be challenged, even when I was in Grade Seven, I used to go home with my gateway to Grade Eight text book and try to perform the experiments from the book with the help of my big cousin Mutale who used to guide me, it is why I enjoy the hands on, practical aspect of the business so much,” Mr Ngoma says.
In less than five years since Tapera was re-registered as a Limited Liability company from a business name to scale up the business, Mr Ngoma has excelled gained himself numerous recognitions.
“This has opened several doors and opportunities around the world which include being a Mandela Washington Fellow in 2014, one of Forbes Africa top 30 under 35 most promising entrepreneurs of 2016, listed by the United Nations decade for people of African descent as one of the Most Influential People of African Descent 2017. And most recently being invited by the office of the President of the Africa Development Bank for the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) annual meeting 2018 to present a paper to the bank, on youth participation in the industrialisation of Africa based on Tapera Industries experience in Zambia,” Mr Ngoma says.
Through his works and recognitions from around the world, he hopes society can begin to perceive youth in Zambia as a more proactive population that can help address global challenges.
Currently, Tapera Industries Limited offers a waste vegetable oils and fat waste disposal service to local restaurants and hotels under licence from ZEMA, and through his innovative disposal methods, the used cooking oils and fats are cleaned and processed into biodiesel fuel and soap products.
However, due to limited quantities of the waste vegetable fats, the business has since 2014 started to procure jatropha curcas seed from small-scale farmers to produce the vegetable oils in house which are being further processed into biofuels and natural soaps.
“We used to collect used cooking oils from local hotels and restaurants on a large scale but we realised that due to the inconsistent quality and availability the venture was becoming expensive because of the high cost that they pegged the used cooking oils at. So we decided to be producing the vegetable oils on our own using various oil seeds,” Mr Ngoma says.
To date, Tapera Industries Limited company has signed up over 2000 small scale farmers on their out grower program, and are able to procure an average of 40 metric tons of seed per month during the harvest season.
“In partnership with MUSIKA agricultural initiatives, We have set up a small scale farmers out grower scheme in Eastern Province of Zambia where we soon hope to setup up a fully-fledged farm to fuel biodiesel production site with a monthly capacity to produce 70,000 litres of vegetable oil per month and further produce over 200 metric tonnes of biomass briquettes (environmentally friendly coal replacement) from the agro waste that jatropha seed generates,” he says.
The company employs seven permanent staff, and 30 seasonal buyers who live in the communities where the small scale-farmers are based.
For Mr Ngoma, the potential for growth in youth participation in the economy is one thing that Africa should not ignore.
“What my fellow youths require is direction and support from the leaders. During the AfDB annual meeting in Korea, the World Bank president mentioned that Africa would have a difficult time industrializing because the leaders are not supporting the small industries, a good example to learn from is South Korea, it started with basic industries making small things like soap and matches, then graduated to light industries making small components like engine parts, then to Heavy industries where they are manufacturing cars and ships, and now digital industries where they bring us the phones and robotics. The leap that is being attempted, from no base industry to digital industry will leave a huge gap that will have to be supported by foreign manufacturers like China which will stunt our industrialisation potential, unless the local industries are supported and become the base for the industrial revolution,” Mr Ngoma says.
From an idea to innovative action, and this is how Tapera Industries Limited was born.