Brian Moonga | October 11, 2010
As Zambia marks World Food Day this year, the country faces many hurdles. The government is trying to diversify the economy. Once dependent on mining, the country is seeking an agro-revolution. Experts say this would generate jobs for the 65 per cent of poverty-stricken citizens who can’t afford three square meals a day.
Fwanyanaga Mulikita grows and processes chilies in Kafue, near Lusaka. He sells them to small retail outlets. Despite decades of farming experience, Mr. Mulikita often complains that the market for his goods is small and slow. He needs money to expand. He wants to buy basic processing equipment and explore new markets beyond Kafue.
His interpretation of World Food Day is no different from how most small-scale farmers feel about this internationally recognized day.
He says, “This day should be made reality and will only become meaningful if we discuss and find solutions to problems facing farmers and how these can be addressed so that we grow more food cheaply and feed many of our hungry citizens.” He says that it is very hard to be successful in agro-business in Zambia. He feels there is little recognition of subsistence growers like him.
Olga Mandona grows fruits and vegetables on a 12 hectare family farm just outside of the capital, Lusaka. But she uses only four hectares because of the high costs of production. She argues, “I think the Zambian government and its partners should … create a conducive environment for small-scale farmers to grow.”
Ms. Mandona wants farmer’s voices to be heard on October 16th. Many farmers are indifferent towards internationally recognized days such as World Food Day. They say there is a need for stronger interaction between government and farmers, if such events are to have true meaning to the people they target.
She says, “We want a forum with government this month to tell them how unbearable the cost of farming is. We contribute significantly to this industry yet we are not heard, unlike commercial farmers who get all sorts of agriculture concessions.”
Many subsistence farmers feel ignored by current agricultural policies. Those who want to expand to become commercial farmers also find the policies unfavourable. For example, Ms. Mandona claims she could produce more if she had access to credit. Another drawback is that roads are impassable during the rainy season. She says, “Look at us, we are not [at] war, we have good soils. The stagnation of agriculture in this country is tied to the lack of assistance by authorities to empower [the] subsistence farmers who are tomorrow’s commercial farmers.”
Mr. Mulikita is planning to take matters into his own hands. In the absence of government help, he wants to form a co-operative to pool resources and explore new markets.
He hopes that he will be able to meet other farmers and network during World Food Day events. He says, “We are not involved in preparing for this day … so there is some apathy amongst most farmers in this area.” But he hopes the importance of the day will be highlighted, and farmers will be encouraged to use such events to discuss the challenges facing them.