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Posted July 1996

Small farmer inter-group associations in Zambia: the Shishamba East Area Action Committee

by Cameron Clark
FAO Consultant

From an FAO study of eight small farmer inter-group associations organized in Sri Lanka and Zambia under the FAO People's Participation Programme (PPP)
See also Special: Participation in practice - Lessons from the FAO People's Participation Programme


A female Group Promoter (GP) was assigned to the Shishamba area of the District of Kaoma in 1991. By the end of 1993 the GP had helped 15 PPP groups become established, seven in Shishamba West and eight in Shishamba East. This case study concerns the activities of the eight groups which formed themselves into the Shishamba East Area Action Committee in December 1993. The eight groups have a total membership of 116 persons - 25 males and 91 females. Of the 91 females members, 37 or about 41% of them are household heads and carry the additional responsibilities this entails.

Organizational structure and functioning

Each PPP group elects two members as their representatives to the AAC for a one year period. New representatives are elected each year, to the extent possible, in accordance with the PPP principle of encouraging the rotation of leadership positions amongst all members. A gender balance is encouraged.

The election of office-bearers takes place at the annual meeting, at the end of each year. Every group member has a vote in electing office-bearers for the following positions: chair, vice-chair, secretary, vice-secretary, treasurer and captain (the executive committee) plus two persons for each of the five sub-committees: Discipline, Finance, Security, Education and Scouting. Voting is done by show of hands.

For the first two years, the males tended to dominate the elected positions of the AAC. Since 1995, this has been corrected by reserving the vice positions largely for the male members. The position of Captain is also reserved for a male member as his duty is to find contract labour opportunities and to recruit piece workers for AAC income generation.

The function of the Discipline Committee was explained as one of "problem-solving". Two examples were cited. In one case the husband of an elected AAC member was refusing to let her attend AAC meetings as he suspected she was using it as an excuse to have an affair with another man. The Discipline Committee met with the husband, explained the reason why his wife needed to attend and invited him to the next AAC meeting to see for himself how the meeting was conducted. He did so and became convinced of the value of the AAC and thereafter encouraged her to attend.

A second case involved a problem of fund-raising for the AAC. The AAC decided each group should contribute one bag of maize for the purpose of brewing beer for sale. Members of one of the group objected to this activity on religious grounds. The Discipline Committee mediated a solution whereby groups could decide alternative means of raising cash for the AAC Fund.

The function of the Finance Committee is to monitor the treasurer and oversee group finances in general. The role of the Security Committee is to monitor credit loans, ensure no misuse of loan credit and timely repayment. In one case the treasurer of one of the groups ran off with the group's fund of K35,000. The AAC Security Committee was able to convince the other seven groups to each contribute K5,000 to replenish the loss.

The Education Committee concerns itself with helping to plan training courses for members based on needs expressed during their monthly meetings. In one instance, the Committee gave special training to a group secretary who was having difficulty keeping good minutes of her group's weekly meetings.

The function of the Scouting Committee is to help form new groups. Each PPP group is encouraged to tell others of the benefits that can come from forming their own PPP group and eventually becoming eligible to join the AAC. The Committee members help to explain the detailed functioning of a PPP group and supervise the elections for any new group. Originally this type of promotional work was done by the local Group Promoter, but increasingly she is training the Scouting Committee members to assume responsibility for expansion.

The AAC has prepared its own written constitution and is awaiting project approval to become registered as the Shishamba East People's Participation Inter-Group Association.

The financial position of the AAC is quite strong with a fund of K25,000. This fund is raised by an annual contribution from each group of K2,500 plus contract work done by the AAC representatives themselves. The AAC does not have its own bank account. The funds are kept by the treasurer.

There is a strong feeling of "camaraderie" among the AAC representatives. They have built their own separate premises in which the AAC meetings and related social activities are held. Each monthly AAC meeting becomes a social event, as well as a business meeting. They have plans to build a separate AAC office. To help cover these costs each group has been asked to contribute one tin of maize (20 kgs) each year. To construct the office, male group members will be asked to contribute poles and women grass for the roof. As mentioned earlier, the Shishamba East AAC representatives and the Shishamba West AAC representatives meet jointly every quarter. This also adds to the feeling of group solidarity and cooperation which exists amongst the AAC representatives. However there is some concern that the AAC representation are starting to behave as a super or elite PPP group rather than primarily representatives of their own PPP groups.

Services provided to groups

Exchange of experiences

The main purpose of a AAC meeting is to provide each group with an opportunity to relate in detail their activities over the past month, their achievements and their special problems. Discussion follows each presentation during which the experience of others is shared and options are solicited as to possible future action.

Credit and savings

The AAC encourages group savings ahead of the AAC fund. The 8 member groups have accumulated a total saving of nearly K200,000 or K25,000 per group on average. This varies between a low of K10,000 to a high of K52,000.

The study revealed that the AAC has discussed the possibility of establishing a special fund for loaning to groups at concessional rates with defaulters paying heavy penalty fees. The fund could be built up overtime by asking each group to contribute in kind one bag of maize per year. The proposal is still under discussion by the individual groups. Each group has already given K5,000 in advance for maize seed under a project sponsored by the NGO "Women in Agriculture". To date no seed has been delivered to them. The success or failure of this collective action may influence future AAC group action.

All requests for group loans under the Project must receive the approval of the executive committee of the AAC. The study found that the executive committee takes this responsibility very seriously. Several requests in the past have ben turned down. In one instance the requesting group had not been able to save the required 20% of the loan while in another case the AAC determined that the level of cooperation amongst the requesting group members was not high enough to warrant the risk involved.

The study was also informed that no loans had been approved by the AAC for primary crop production such as maize or millet as they could not be profitable given the present rate of interest (48%) of Project credit. This is a general dilemma facing all farmers in the Western Province.

Extension support

The AAC reported that the Agricultural Extension Staff in the area gave their fullest support to the PPP groups. The only problem was the lack of alternatives to the basic crops which Extension could recommend.

Production inputs

Due to a general shortage of production inputs such as improved seeds and fertilizers, the AAC has not yet attempted bulk purchase of any inputs.


The Education Committee has helped organize special training courses for a variety of subjects including book-keeping, conduct of meetings, nutrition and literacy.


Based on the experience of one group which successfully stored maize for sale later at a much higher price, the AAC is investigating the possibility of building a large grain storage unit for use by its members nearby to an operating griss mill.

Survey and expansion

As mentioned earlier, the Scouting Committee of the AAC is actively encouraging each group to attract new members and to convince surrounding villagers to organize their own PPP groups.

Role of the group promoter

The local Group Promoter serving this AAC is actively training AAC representatives in the performance of their new duties including methods for group expansion.

Linkages with other AACs and organizations

Initial contacts with outside agencies are still primarily being made by the local GP. However once these contacts have been established the AAC officers are able to follow-up. This includes contacts with Agricultural Extension, Veterinary Extension and Women in Agriculture. They also have hosted visiting AACs from other districts. In fact they complain that they are frequently asked by Project Management to share their experience with others but they never get the opportunity to visit and learn from other AACs.

Main problems and training needs

This AAC appears to be functioning quite well. The problems it faces are those common to other AACs in the Western Province such as limited alternative income-generating activities, a poor marketing and input distribution system and a lack of coordination between development programmes (both Government and NGO).

The study detected a tendency amongst the AAC representatives to behave like a super or elite PPP group. They saw their role primarily as being a "parent" with responsibility for guiding and directing their PPP groups rather than as representatives of their groups. This attitude needs to be corrected before it undermines confidence in the AAC by the general rank and file members. The problem needs to be discussed at future Group Promoter in-service training courses. In building any people's organization, it is of fundamental importance that final authority remains with the general membership at the grassroots level.

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