Women farmers taking the lead in Zambia

08/03/2019 - 

In Zambia, where the majority of the population relies on agriculture for a living, ensuring food self-sufficiency is a stepping-stone for poor communities to develop and lift families out of the poverty trap. With EU support of more than EUR 12 million (USD 14 million), FAO worked alongside the Ministry of Agriculture in Zambia to launch the Conservation Agriculture Scaling Up Project in 2013. It set out to increase productivity and production of crops in 31 districts across Zambia. The project benefited more than 229 000 Zambian farmers - 40 percent of them women. In addition, it specifically zoomed in on productivity loss connected to soil degradation, high inputs prices, poor produce markets and poor farming practices. The overarching goal was to reduce hunger and to improve families’ food security and nutrition along with their incomes - all the while promoting the sustainable use of natural resources through conservation agriculture (CA).

As is the case in many parts of the world, Zambian women work in agriculture with little reward or income in return for their labour. They traditionally have less access than men to productive resources, services and opportunities, including land, financial services and education. Recognizing this, the project ensured the participation of rural women, who received support and education that helped them improve their yields, increasing their food security and that of their families.

In addition to teaching CA techniques, the project employed Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) solutions to modernize service delivery. Most notably, the project developed an e-voucher system, called the Farmer Input Management Voucher System, to facilitate farmers’ access to quality inputs and services. The system monitors farmer activities and allows them to redeem inputs in real time. The system also facilitates payments to agro-dealers and suppliers, and helps the government improve extension services. The success of the e-voucher model led the government to adopt the system as the backbone for the implementation of its national agricultural subsidy programme, the Farmer Input Support Programme.

In 2017, the government rolled out its own comprehensive system, the Zambia Integrated Agricultural Management Information System (ZIAMIS), which serves 90 suppliers, 1 500 agro-dealers, and more than 1 500 000 farmers, along with a number of banks and mobile payment companies that use ZIAMIS for real-time management of payments and monitoring of transactions. ZIAMIS has further enhanced the use of ICT within Zambia’s Ministry of Agriculture, as it collects and manages databases such as the National Farmer Register and the national catalogue of agricultural inputs. It also facilitates mass SMS communication to farmers and other stakeholders, along with routine market, nutrition and food security monitoring across the country.

Working with Zambia’s Ministry of Agriculture ensured sustainability, also thanks to the more than 820 agricultural extension service staff the government has committed at all levels of the Ministry to participate and contribute to the success of the project.

Scaling up impact in Lusaka province

When Margaret Chisangano acquired almost five hectares of land, she began rearing goats. Margaret allocated one hectare to grow maize, a staple food for most Zambians. But declining soil fertility and erratic rains led to a poor harvest and, as the years went by, the land increasingly dried up to such an extent that even in the years with good rain there was a reduced yield.

Margaret had difficulty supporting her five dependent children with her seasonal income. Having a year-round income meant the difference between bare survival and providing a decent life for the family. The benefits were almost immediate once she adopted conservation agriculture practices. “Once I started CA, my yields improved,” she said. “From one hectare, I started producing 120 bags [of maize] where previously I was producing just ten bags.”

Handling prolonged drought as a result of climate change is a major challenge in Zambia, but the farmers involved in the scheme prepare the land and plant early. This means there is minimal soil disturbance with greater water infiltration and retention in the soil. This results in increased production, which allows farmers to make good profits and reinvest in their land.

The EU-FAO collaboration has long-term effects on the people in Chongwe district. Margaret moved the family into a five-room house with modern facilities from a thatched grass-roof hut. Her days of vulnerability are long gone. “Today I have a house and I bought a vehicle from the profits I made through CA - I believe CA opened opportunities for me that would otherwise be unavailable.”

Photo: Zambia – CASU monitoring of demonstration plots ©FAO/Precious N. Chitembwe