A young man’s problem-solving idea transited to innovative action leading to one of Africa’s most inspiring success stories in start-up businesses.
Mutoba Ngoma is Zambian but not immune from the perennial energy crises bedevilling most of Africa therefore he’s had a longing to devise means of helping to solve the problem for his people in the southern African country.
A chance encounter with a TV documentary on renewable energy in Brazil after bagging a degree in Aeronautical Engineering in the United Kingdom, piqued his interest and gave him an idea of how to help solve the fuel shortage back home.
In 2009, he founded Tapera Bio Industries Limited – a biofuel company that converts used vegetable oil into fuel – with a two-fold mission to increase the country’s fuel supply sustainability and provide vocational training and stable job opportunities for young people.
Ngoma’s business model is simple. His company processes about 3000 liters of used vegetable oil a month – actually started with 200 litres – for use as motor fuel and sells to a cluster of clients.
And when he was confronted with a lack of enough used vegetable oil for bio-diesel, Ngoma was quick to diversify into soap making.
“The idea of making soaps came about as a result of one of our challenges of securing enough raw material for the diesel. We realized as we were waiting for more oil to come about, we could actually be producing something else. And we found that we could actually produce soap from the same oil.
“So we just had to clean it a bit more and it’s even cheaper to process than the diesel. We stuck with it because we felt it is also a good income generator.”
Tapera also initiated the supply of a raw material – sourced from jatropha seeds which can be used instead of used cooking oil – to other companies in the region looking to produce their own bio-diesel.
Tapera sources the jatropha seeds from local farmers – some 50 tonnes a month from over 2000 small scale farmers signed on to their Out-Grower program – for supplies to Bio Energy Resources Limited in Malawi and Copperbelt Energy Corporation in Zambia.
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,” Ngoma said.
For Ngoma, Africa should not discountenance the potential for growth in youth participation in the economy.
“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 industrialization potential, unless the local industries are supported and become the base for the industrial revolution,” Ngoma opines.
He would also want young Africans to not only be educated but to recognise opportunities for growth and grab with both hands when they see such while also pleading with governments to create such environment for entrepreneurial growth.
“Education and training are important but opportunity is a bigger factor. I have been lucky enough to have had good support and advice but an enabling environment needs to be created at the country level for all young people.
With the right support, young people themselves can help tackle the youth employment crisis. We have the ideas and the motivation. We just need the opportunity and support.”
What drives him?
Ngoma is a driven man, constantly seeking to do better than the day before and inspired by successful but self-made mentors.
“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.”
In the years since he started Tapera, several doors and opportunities around the world have opened for the 34-year old which include being a Mandela Washington Fellow in 2014; named one of Forbes Africa top 30 under 35 most promising entrepreneurs of 2016; listed by the United Nations as one of the Most Influential People of African Descent in 2017.
He was also invited by the President of the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) for the bank’s annual meeting 2018 to present a paper on youth participation in the industrialization of Africa based on Tapera Industries experience in Zambia.
Ngoma has big plans for Tapera and the future of entrepreneurship in Zambia.
He wants to buy land to grow castor beans for oil and thereby produce bio-fuels, create jobs for other young people and help the Zambian economy.
In the Beginning
Born in Lusaka, Zambia on January 30, 1985, Ngoma attended Matero Boys Secondary School in Lusaka before going on to complete his secondary school in Nairobi, Kenya at St Mary’s School.
He proceeded to the United Kingdom to study manufacturing and aircraft engineering before returning home to work with the now-defunct Zambia Airways as an aircraft maintenance planner.
Ngoma may have given up his childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut and couldn’t fulfill his dream of working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) but his current pioneering effort is helping to put Zambia in the sky.
*Education is good but recognizing and seizing opportunity is everything.
*Africans are capable of solving their problems if governments will trust and create the right environment for young entrepreneurs