By Jack Meehan
Border Farmer’s Co-operative is home to many dedicated employees, but none quite as enthusiastic as Patson Musukwa, the organisation’s main salesman. Running since 1980, and located in Kitwe’s industrial area, the cooperative specialises in selling agricultural products and services to farmers across the Copperbelt. As the first point of contact for customers seeking assistance and advice, Patson has a crucial role and I’m interested to hear his take on the business, its products, and the challenges facing the agricultural sector in Zambia.
I begin by asking for some basic information about himself. With a beaming smile and a sly giggle, he lists his favourite hobbies as watching football, resting and singing. He’s recently taken up running to lose weight and has even persuaded a few of his colleagues to join him in early-evening jogs after work. “When you feel fit, you’re more likely to be happy,” he adds with a grin.
However, for Patson, his favourite passion is his work. With genuine enthusiasm, he starts recounting examples of times he’s helped customers with their choice of veterinary products, hardware equipment, and even gardening tools. “I’m the face of the business,” he states confidently. “I love interacting with customers and I’ve gradually come to build up a good relationship with them. He giggles again. “Trust is everything here.”
When asked about the Zambian economy, Patson is calm and rational in his response. “We need to remember this is a global issue. The world is facing huge challenges at the moment and Zambia’s not immune to those.” However, he states that the country’s traditional agricultural sector has been hit particularly hard by the downward turn in the economy and this has led to many farmers going bankrupt.
We take a break to get a photo and Patson beckons me over to the warehouse gates. Suddenly, he leaps upwards and clasps a metal rail high overhead with both hands. There’s a deafening sound of screeching metal as Patson kicks out his legs and attempts to lift his full body weight upwards. “I’m getting better at pull-ups,” he chuckles to me below. Astonished, I can only nod.
We quickly resume and I ask him for his opinion on the state of the co-operative. He admits that the slump in the economy has greatly affected business with declining sales and a drop off in customer numbers. Yet he’s cautiously optimistic about the future of Border Farmer’s, predicting that the current situation is only temporary and that sales will soon improve.
After discussing the weak condition of the agricultural sector and the enterprise’s current woes, we leave on a lighter note.
“Shoprite in town or at the mall?”
Patson looks pensive. “Once I would have said in town,” he begins carefully. “But now neither are much good. The best Shoprite is actually located on Copperbelt Hill. It’s less busy and the staff seem friendlier.” He pauses. “Yes, they’re definitely more helpful.”
Clearly, for Patson, customer service is never too far from his mind.