Sowing the seeds for future harvests
Most rural communities in Zambia have little or no access to transport. This is particularly hard for subsistance farmers who need to buy seeds and other necessities at planting time.
Without transport, they have little option but to reuse old seeds – which means that the new crop is poorer in quality and quantity. For families already over-stretched with the responsibility of orphaned children or sick relatives, this is a huge added burden.
To help them, and to strengthen the economy of their communities, BZT is funding loans for small farmers so that they can plant highly nutritional crops and improve their local grain storage systems. This will greatly benefit not only themselves and their families, but also the wider communities in which they live and work.
Over the last four years, BZT’s partners at ZRDF have taught farmers’ groups how to grow bananas and take them to market. This is a huge advance on the past, when only maize and tomatoes were grown (maize is a rain-dependant low cash value crop, and tomatoes are subject to glut and low prices). Bananas, however, are significantly more valuable per hectare than maize in monetary terms. Not only that, but bananas are also much better for local people, particularly those who are HIV positive, as they provide the sufferers with more energy to look after their families.
One of BZT’s objectives is to improve farmers’ incomes, by growing crops other than just maize. BZT has supported a successful banana plantation programme, particularly at Nshinso.
There, the original plantation started with 20 farmers and 760 plants in October 2011. The growth of the banana plants was so apparent a second group of farmers identiﬁed another site with good ground water, close to Nshinso,called Mimbulu. In August 2012 the farmers at this site were preparing the ground for suckers for planting in October. Now there are tall straight plants which are a delight to see. Everyone is very positive and waiting to start further expansion, doubling the number of plants at both these sites.
Market links are critical to ensure the farmers receive best value for their crop. The farmers were encouraged to select two of their group who could read, write and communicate, to attend the recent Provincial Agricultural Show held this year at Mkushi in order to network and ﬁnd potential buyers. They even won some prizes! In addition all farmers are trained and encouraged to keep records, to understand how much each farmer is growing, selling and the extent of their proﬁt margins. This will be an incentive to expand and increase revenue.
A third group of farmers has identiﬁed a further site called Chilaka and they have already cleared land for another plantation. BZT has recently visited this site and seen the good supply of water, even in the middle of the dry season, and the good quality of the soil. BZT’s partner, ZRDF, will enter into an agreement with the farmers to provide loans which are repaid after the ﬁrst harvest, for the initial purchase of suckers and fertilizer and provide both technical and business support and training.
The ﬁrst group of banana farmers in Nshinso has begun selling their crops. Between January and August of this year the farmers have typically been selling 30 boxes a month, each averaging 80 bananas. These farmers’ income has already doubled!
It is the prospect of this income, that will grow as the initial plants develop to yield three crops a year, that has encouraged other farmers in the area to join in this successful venture of growing bananas for the ﬁrst time in Nshinso.
The famers are very excited and pleased their hard work is helping pay for school fees and more food for the family.
In some of the communities where BZT is working there is not sufficient ground water to sustainably grow bananas, In these areas ZRDF has been working with farmers’ groups to diversify away from maize to grow other crops such as soya beans.
In late 2013, this opportunity was eagerly grasped by farmers in the Sakala communities where BZT has recently commenced working. In total there and elsewhere an amazing 52 hectares was planted in December. This is a really exciting development.