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The resilience of Luapula people

HOW have the people of Luapula Province managed to survive for many years despite the absence of any credible industry since the collapse of the local economy in the wake of the privatisation programme?
Sometime last year, as the rainy season was setting in, I visited a family friend in Lusaka West.

Our two families have been visiting and supporting each other for over five years now.
I found my friend at home.
We talked about many issues but eventually found ourselves discussing his passion, farming.
He and his family have a medium-size farm in Mkushi where they have been growing legume crops, maize, vegetables and rearing animals.
My friend told me that he was increasing the hectares of his farm because he wanted to plant more soya beans.
He said he was expecting to cover 10 hectares with soya seed.
The man speaks about his farming hobby with unflinching passion.
As we were chatting he strongly proposed that I also acquire land in Mkushi and try farming.
“You will not regret, I can assure you my brother,” he cajoled.
But I explained that such an undertaking was not on the list of my priorities, although it was in the long-term plans.
My role, I explained, was to buy his produce at a reasonable price after harvest and resell it at a profit.
I told my friend that he should concentrate on farming and leave the tricky business of bargaining to me because I knew how to negotiate for a good price for his produce.
“You come from a tribal group that are traditionally farmers while I come from a tribal group that are traditionally traders.
“You will produce, I will find the market. That will be our partnership,” I said.
We laughed and agreed that it was a deal.
My friend went to town explaining to me how he came from a clan of serious farmers and pastoralists, and how farming ran in his veins.
I also explained to him how my madam and I came from entrepreneur families.
The conversation took me down memory lane, back to the time I was a boy.
Many people in the Chitembo chiefdom in Samfya district were engaged in small businesses then.
Some were running bars, taverns, grocery shops, tearooms (tilimu) and tea carts (tikati).
Many others were engaged in barter trade, trading with fishermen in the fishing camps.
It was common among AbenaN’gumbo for boys to accompany their fathers and uncles on fishing expeditions, which could take up to six months, to learn the art of fishing and fish trade.
I need not emphasise that fishing was the main source of livelihood for the Ng’umbo tribe, to which I belong, and any boy or man who did not have the skill was a butt of every crude joke.
They were despised and derided to the point of almost being regarded and treated as outcasts.
Such boys or men would struggle to find a girl or woman to marry because no parent in the right frame of their mind would marry their daughter or niece to a good-for-nothing who could not go on the lake and make money.
Therefore, during holidays I would be with my father and my brothers in the fishing camps on Ifunge Peninsular (Pefunge) or Myengele.
Our chores were casting and inspecting fishing nets, group fishing, gathering firewood for smoking fish, dressing and smoking fish and mending torn fishing nets.
With keen interest I would watch my father and other fishermen haggle with fish traders or mongers (abasulu be sabi), over the price of fresh or dry fish.
Sometimes he would leave us with instructions to sell the fish, with a range of prices.
“These fish are for 50 ngwee. If the musulu demands a reduction you should first stand your ground. If he or she insists you can reduce to 45 ngwee. If he or she persists you reduce to 40 ngwee or 35 ngwee, but you should not agree to reduce below 30 ngwee,” father would sternly instruct us.
“If he or she wants to pay less than 30 ngwee you should refuse.”
We always carried out the instructions.
To raise money for my transport back to the boarding school, Nchelenge Secondary School or Nchezi, I would supplement what father earned from his catches with trading.
I would buy fish from my own father and other fishermen and walk in the hot sand all the way to Samfya Boma to resell it at a profit.
On a good day I would sell all the fish on the beach on the shore of Lake Bangweulu, between the area where Chita Lodge Samfya stands now and Samfya Rest House.
I was unconsciously learning bargaining skills at a tender age, which have proved to be very useful in my adult life.
As early as when I was in primary school I was able to detect our father’s business acumen in me and my brothers.
One of his nephews returned from Kitwe with some money which he wanted to invest in business. He asked my father to set up a grocery store for him.
What started as a mere window in the wall of a thatch-roofed house grew so much that father had to build a big shop in just few years.
I still remember how we would wait until late in the night for the hired truck to arrive from Mansa with all kinds of merchandise ranging from mealie meal to fishing hooks.
We also used to help him to order, arrange and sell merchandise.
Right now three of my brothers are businessmen in Samfya while besides working as a journalist I am also running a small family business as a food supplier under a limited company, which we plan to expand.
You see, the people of Luapula, are resilient entreprenuers and survivors, which explains how the province has survived all these years of neglect and underdevelopment.