Kumbali boasts a variety of accommodation options in Malawi's capital city as well as the famous Lake Malawi. We're not terrible farmers either. However, Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was Kumbali.
It all started in 1986 when the government of Canada established the Capital Hill Dairy Farm in Malawi, with 341 dairy cows producing over 1,000 liters of milk daily. However, by the early '90s, the farm was handed over to the Malawi Government under MDI – Malawi Dairy Industries.
In 1997, the government of Malawi decided to privatize all MDI farms, and Guy and Maureen Pickering, a tobacco farmer and dairy farmer respectively, won the tender for the Capital Hill Dairy Farm. It was a challenging time for the Pickerings, as the milk production had dropped to less than 100 liters per day. They had their work cut out for them, but they were determined to turn things around.
On the first of July 1998, Guy and Maureen moved onsite, and they had their work cut out for them. There were only a few buildings present, with the current lodge restaurant and rooms M5, M6, and M7 being government C-class buildings. There were no flower gardens at all, just maize fields. However, the Pickerings were not deterred, and they set about transforming the farm into something special.
In 1999, the Pickerings opened a super market on the farm, an operation they had going on in Namitete, before moving to Lilongwe. 'The Pantry' sold homemade yogurt, mayonnaise, feta cheese, fruit juice, and other luxury products imported from Zimbabwe. It was a popular shop at a time when these items were not available anywhere else in town.
In 2002, Guy started farming and trying out different crops such as tobacco, chilies, paprika, pigeon peas, seed maize, and Jatropha trees. However, the farming business was tough, so the Pickerings decided to open up their house for BnB guests. This started showing great promise and in December 2003, rooms M1 to M4 were built, and 'The Grazing Place' was also opened by now, in the current conference center. It was a popular coffee shop and also had a petting farm with a crocodile, rabbits, guinea pigs, a monkey, and other animals.
Despite the challenges they faced, the Pickerings never lost sight of their dream. In 2004, 'Kumbali Country Lodge' officially opened its doors to the public, and the festivities were attended by the then Vice President Honourable Justin Malewezi. The lodge had a total of 11 rooms, but the Pickerings were not content to rest on their laurels.
In 2006, Kumbali opened 5 more rooms and had its first visit by Madonna. "The Grazing Place" and "The Pantry" both closed down, and the space was turned into a conference room. The lodge center was revamped and became the double-story thatched building we see today.
In 2019, the Pickerings decided to close the dairy factory, which was still producing cheese, milk, and juices but the competition became stiff. Covid hit the next year, and the tourism industry was seemingly doomed. However, Guy had been seeing an opportunity in banana farming and decided now was the time to jump on it.
A little project with 18 banana trees quickly grew into a 28-hectare farm with over 60,000 plants. It was an ambitious undertaking, but the Pickerings were no strangers to hard work and perseverance. They had faced numerous challenges in the past, and they were not about to let a pandemic get in the way of their dreams.