Brian Moonga | May 30, 2011
In the past, farmers like Michael Mudenda lost a lot of money ferrying their produce to market. The poor roads and rough terrain often resulted in huge financial losses and much waste, especially of perishable goods such as vegetables. Mr. Mudenda grows vegetables and raises small livestock. He says, “I was unable to get to town in time to buy chemicals and other inputs because the roads were extremely impassable, and that … resulted in delays in my farming plan.”
Luckily, such challenges will soon be a thing of the past for farmers in five rural districts of Zambia. Mr. Mudenda is one of many small-scale farmers in Choma, a farming district in southern Zambia, who will now be able to access agricultural services much more easily. Over 1,000 kilometres of unpaved roads have been built over the last two years. They link key agricultural areas with markets. In Choma district alone, new roads stretch over 250 kilometres and reach more than 2,000 small-scale farmers.
The road project is funded by the World Bank and the Zambian government. Road-building will continue until 2014, at a total estimated cost of one million US Dollars. The government hopes the project will boost agriculture in the most productive agricultural areas.
Elijah Muchima is the Provincial Minister in Choma. He is calling for feeder roads to be constructed in other highly productive areas to help small-scale farmers increase production and access more markets. He says, “Because of small-scale farmers, we are now exporting a variety of agricultural goods. This road [network] will help us deliver inputs to farmers on time.”
Subsistence farmers contribute over 90 per cent of Zambia’s total agricultural output. But they face numerous challenges, including the poor road network. In recent years, failing infrastructure, coupled with poor rainfall and increased livestock diseases, has begun to negatively affect agriculture. Mr. Mudenda recalls, “Sometimes one would have to shepherd the livestock on foot over many kilometres, and usually not make it in time to meet the buyer.”
Mr. Mudenda sells most of his maize to the government’s Food Reserve Agency, or FRA, which determines the floor and ceiling price of agricultural commodities for most rural farmers. Mr. Mudenda has always found it challenging to deliver tonnes of maize by cart to FRA’s collection and selling points. He harvests about one hundred 90-kilogram bags of maize per year but says, “I had experienced stockpiles in my backyard because it’s been hard to transport the maize to designated collection points … let alone to the district centre where the price is better.”
Mr. Mudenda appreciates the new roads. He says they have given his farming career a new lease on life. As he prepares to expand his farming activities, he hopes that the roads will help him double his earnings. He says, “I am seriously contemplating growing winter maize. So I will not grow maize in one season only but throughout the year, because I now have easier access to the market.”