TBY talks to Sharad Harishchandra Oza, Chairman Operations & Finance of Saro Agro Industrial, on the rapid growth of the business, improved mechanization of farming in Zambia, and providing nationwide coverage to the agricultural sector.

Sharad Harishchandra Oza
Sharad Harishchandra Oza is Chairman Operations & Finance of Saro Agro Industrial.

Can you tell us about the development of Saro Agro Industrial in recent times?

Our involvement in the agriculture sector is restricted to the supply of equipment for utilization on farms, including preparation equipment, spraying equipment, and irrigation equipment. We do not get involved in the commodities, fertilizers, or anything else of that nature. We have also developed our business in the generating sector, which means that we sell generating sets and the equipment needed for the production of electricity. Thirdly, we have also gone into solar equipment on the same basis. These developments have made us the leading suppliers of equipment to the agricultural sector. And it is not just sales and resales; it is integrated in the sense that we have also got a manufacturing unit and a steel fabrication unit behind our shop. We fabricate products such as trailers, bowsers, and thereafter tankers, including tanks for mines and for the agricultural sector.

What is your customer base for products such as solar equipment and generators?

For solar products and generators, it is the farmers themselves, usually the small-scale farmers. We supply and service the smallest farm holdings in the villages where they have to use an ordinary plow with ox-driven equipment. We work from that level, up to hand-operated equipment for planting seeds, to harvesting the products, and going up to the level of motorized equipment, such as small 16-horsepower walking tractors, all the way up to huge tractors. The mechanization of Zambia has been advanced and promoted by the government in a significant way, and we can cater to that whole spectrum of farmers.

Which products are you seeing the most demand for?

We have seen the tractor division and the requirements for tractors steadily increasing, mainly because of the growth in the emerging farmers. They are the indigenous farmers who used to have about four hectares and can now handle 20, or 40, or 100 hectares. Over this period, we have found that these private farmers are getting involved in commercial farming, and that is reflected in the increase in the number of farmers in the country and the area under cultivation. As these farmers start using mechanization and tractors, the production of basic foodstuffs in Zambia is going from maize to soybeans, to cotton, to wheat, and numerous other products. And these products are being grown on a large scale. As for the generator sets, the small ones start at 2 kW and we go up to 1,000 kW. The 2 kW operator is a householder or a villager. They will use that 2 kW generating set to run their television and lights. We sell those units every day. We reach up to the larger generating sets, and the main consumers for these are the farmers and industrial operators. In fact, the Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESCO) buys large 500 kW generating sets and the power for certain rural areas is supplied that way.

What is your long-term view for Saro Agro?

Just five years ago, our turnover was only $10 million, and now it is up to $30 million. You can see the growth rate at which the agricultural industry has been moving. As far as Saro is concerned, we have a branch in Mkushi, which is a large farm block in Zambian terms, and that holds considerable investment potential. And we have a branch in Kitwe that can service the farmers as well as the mining sector. We also supply the water-pumping sector; this is split into two—the mining sector and the farming sector. We have inroads into the mining sector, and the mining sector buys a number of these pumps, as well as tractors, trailers, and bowsers to transport the copper ore from one place to another. Our reach is as far as Solwezi. As far as agriculture is concerned, we crisscross east, west, north, and south Zambia. We have agents and subagents all over the country now.