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close this bookThe Courier N 138 - March - April 1993 Dossier: Africa's New Democracies - Country Reports : Jamaica - Zambia (EC Courier, 1993, 96 p.)
close this folderCountry reports
close this folderZambia
View the documentThe score so far: Democracy 2, Economic Recovery 1
View the documentAn interview with President Frederick Chiluba
View the documentAn interview with Rodger Chongwe, Minister of Legal Affairs
View the documentBiting the bullet: the challenge of beating inflation
View the documentPoverty for many, wealth for some
View the documentSmall farmers: planting the seeds of prosperity
View the documentAIDS-a shadow hanging over Zambia's future
View the documentProfile
View the documentEC - Zambia cooperation

Small farmers: planting the seeds of prosperity

Small farmers play a vital part in Zambia's domestic economy, as they account for 70% of the country's food production. In its May-June 1990 issue, The Courier reported on a development project for small and medium-scale farmers being run jointly by the Government of Zambia and the EC Commission in Central Province. This project, centred on the mining town of Kabwe, was set up in 1988, at a time when farming resources throughout the country were concentrated on maize production in the interests of what the government of the Second Republic imagined would be a cheap way of ensuring food security. Since then, last year's drought showed how little economic security there was in relying so heavily on a single crop. At the same time, in the political arena, a new spirit is at work and new policies are being applied in agriculture as in many other areas of national life. A return visit to the smallholder development project this year gave an opportunity for an interesting comparison between the old approach and the different attitudes now prevailing in the management of the Zambian economy.

At the hand-over of power from the old regime in 1991, smallholder farming in Zambia was in an unsustainable condition. Farmers would take loans for the purchase of necessary inputs such as seed and fertilisers; such loans were in theory repayable when the harvest came in, but control was lax and when, as frequently happened, the loans were not paid back. the cooperatives providing the supplies were simply indemnified by the government. This was, to put it mildly, not a prescription for efficient management, and at the transfer of power the system had virtually collapsed. The cooperative delivering to smallholders in Kabwe, for example, was in a state described by project coordinator Karl-Heinz Voigt as 'chaos' with the supply depots completely empty. To make matters worse, once the cooperatives stopped being compensated by government for bad debts, they went into other businesses, such as transport, where the returns on outlay are more immediate. Many farmers were in a state of apathy, their morale sapped by lack of incentive-and by low, fixed prices. A change of direction was clearly needed.

The smallholder development project covers approximately 34 000 sq. km. of land around the town of Kabwe, which lies north of Lusaka on the road to the Copperbelt. ln the immediate vicinity of the town there are large commercial farms, many of them run by expatriates, but further out are large expanses of less intensively developed land on which an estimated 35 000 small farmer households live. The project's targets are to increase food production by these farmers, raise their income and make them economically stable, increase the value of their marketable products and help rural entrepreneurs integrate small and medium-scale farmers into a liberalised market system. On the macroeconomic level, there is also assistance for the Government in defining a minimum government support strategy in agricultural and veterinary extension.

Only two years ago any approach involving participation by farmers themselves in decision-making would have been seen as a challenge to the Government's assumed right to dictate agricultural policy. Since the advent of the MMD, however, a group approach to development has been chosen as it is effective, practicable and stimulates competition between farmers in a grouping of shared interests. Whereas under the old maize development project, farmer groups in each village consisted only of the headman, his deputy and four others nominated by the headman, farmers now organise themselves into groups and associations known as cattle clubs on any basis they choose, be it ties of family, language, religion, political viewpoint or any other consideration; the only essential criterion is, of course, that they should trust each other. Thirty per cent of farmers in the project area are organised in such groups and clubs, and the project aims to encourage more.

Voluntary grouping has the advantage that the groups are self-policing and exclude anyone known locally to be unreliable or dishonest. lt also encourages loan repayment. No outright grants are made, only loans, and the lowest credit cell is the farmer group, whose members are therefore jointly liable for repayment of the debt. If any individual defaults, no further loans are made to anyone in the group. The groups themselves decide which of their members is most in need of a loan, and the loan itself, which has to be approved by the district agricultural adviser attached to the project, Traugott Hartmann, is in the form of a piece of equipment, the cost of which is recovered from the farmer concerned over a period of three years. Cash loans are not made under the programme.

A good example of the group approach at work can be seen in the Kabwe South Rural District area, where Ivy Mainza heads a group farming land in the village of Kafunda. The traditional crop there had been maize grown from hybrid seed; but with this variety fresh seed had to be procured each year and was too expensive, so the project introduced perennial, open pollinating varieties requiring no replacement, and the farmers maintain a maize seed garden from which they can now meet their own needs without external inputs. As a move towards diversification, the group leader also set up a soya seed garden, using two varieties (one of them developed by a local research station, Magoye) which produce pods without the inoculum needed to stimulate growth in earlier types. Although it is not traditional to the area, soya grown in the district with seed from the garden is popular with farming households because it crops well and is a rich source of protein.

The garden is laid out on land which the group members cleared themselves. For this and other work on their farms the group obtained an ox cart with a credit from the project. At first sight this looks like a low-technology solution, but there are good reasons. Under the old system, grants were given for the purchase of oxen but were not repayable, and suspicious numbers of grant-aided oxen would die of neglect or disappear. Tractors bought with credit were not a success either, as a stock of fuel had to be kept and farmers did not generally have the skills, tools, parts or incentive needed to keep the machines in repair, so that many tractors now lied unused and rusting. An ox cart can also be used for transportation purposes, such as taking farmers children to hospital or their surplus produce to market, where a tractor would not be so cheap or practical.

The project has therefore gone back to promoting animal traction, but loans arc given only for the purchase of equipment (ploughs, ridgers, reapers and so on), not animals. And only a farmer whose group ' certifies that he owns or can get the use of draught animals (from a relative, for example) is eligible for an equipment loan. The project supplies a very practical four-in-one piece of equipment which ploughs, ridges, reaps and weeds, and is made by a small company in Zambia using local materials, so that there is a spin-off benefit for Zambian light industry too.

Animals, of course, require veterinary care, and this is where the 160 cattle clubs come into their own. Each club has a crush pen or spraying race where cattle are treated against tick-borne and other diseases. Again, a low-technology approach is adopted. These enclosures can be built using poles cut from the abundant trees growing wild in the bush, whereas to build a cattle dip would cost ECU 12 500. Technical information about spraying, as with all training and knowhow, is disseminated through clubs and the larger extension groups into which they and farmer groups are organised.

Most of the farmers concerned by the smallholder development project operate only at subsistence level, but there is some cash crop cultivation. As well as maize and soya, farmers in Kafunda village, for example, grow cotton, sunflowers, groundnuts, tomatoes, okra, cabbages, kale, rape, onions and Chinese leaf for sale. EC microproject assistance has gone towards vegetable-growing projects specifically for women. Members of a women's group near Chibombo have received help with inputs for half a hectare of fund-raising garden each, and one of them grows 20 boxes of tomatoes a year on her patch. These ladies have also worked with an EC-funded domestic science adviser who has taught them ways of incorporating soya beans into their diet, the methods of preparation being quite different from those for maize.

At a nearby farm there is an example of EC assistance towards onward processing of farm produce, albeit at a basic level. There a farmer, Mr Kayeka, has obtained a credit from the project to buy and set up a diesel-engined hammer mill, where he grinds maize into mealie meal for his own use and for other farmers in his area. His customers pay in kind or in cash, and the mill has to run for six hours a day to cover maintenance and loan repayment costs. A 5-kg bag of maize which would take two days to mill by hand now takes three minutes, an advance which is especially welcomed by women, as hand pounding is traditionally a female task. Outside harvest time, Mr Kayeka can store three tonnes of maize in a granary also funded by a loan from the project.

Before making credits available for the 20 hammer mills so far installed, the project coordinator and his team carried out a survey to determine where it would be most effective to locate them, so that farmers would have one within a reasonable distance but there would not be so many that they ceased to be commercially viable. There are plans for 40 more mills. Maintenance services are not well developed, but the project coordinator hopes that some entrepreneur will realise that there is a living to be made out of keeping the mills in working order.

It would be unrealistic to pretend that since the change of government all the problems of small-scale farming in Zambia were on the way to being solved by schemes of this type. Project leaders have to urge members of farmer groups constantly to press their representatives for information and action, as 27 years of spoon-feeding by the previous regime have made many farmers slow to identify and fight for their own interests. They also have no experience of marketing except at an informal level, and government policy is now to liberalise the agricultural marketing system completely so that traders, cooperatives, processors, transporters, wholesalers and retailers can operate without government interference. The price of maize, the main staple, has been deregulated, but in the new pricing environment it is the large farmers who are expected to capture a larger share of the maize market, as they have better access to storage facilities, transport and credit and are nearer the main consuming centres than smallholders.

To help the latter, therefore, the Kabwe project has recently recruited a marketing adviser, whose job will be to help set up a market information service, so that small farmers can make betterinformed judgments as to when and where to sell their crops and buy inputs, and traders will know where marketable surpluses are available for purchase. This is a radical departure from the old marketing arrangement, under which crops were bought at guaranteed prices by the State-funded cooperatives. The challenge of operating in a free-market system is one which some small farmers will be better able to face than others. Recognising, in fact, that entrepreneurs eventually have to stand on their own feet, the Kabwe Smallholder Development Project plans to pull out after three years and leave the local farmers to apply what they have learned as they see fit. It will be up to them to show whether Zambia has the grassroots human resources to match its huge agricultural potential. R.R.