Life wasn’t easy for Senzeni Maphosa after her husband succumbed to an HIV-related illness two years ago. She had four children to raise. Miss Maphosa remembers: “Life was tough as my late husband was the sole breadwinner. I had no option but to venture into vending.” She sold cosmetics and second-hand clothes that she bought from neighbouring Zambia. However, with no hawker’s licence, frequent police raids meant she sometimes spent the day evading arrest instead of selling.
Miss Maphosa has lived with HIV for five years. Because sales did not bring her enough money, she had to think of other ways to support her family. She knew there was a huge demand for potatoes, which are becoming a substitute for staple crops such as maize, rice and wheat. She also knew potatoes offer quick returns over a short growing period.
So she decided to start potato farming and joined a local potato growers association. Together with other farmers in the association, she approached Zubo Trust, a non-governmental organization that offers women loans to start income-generating projects. Miss Maphosa says: “I teamed up with six other HIV positive women to venture into potato farming. We received $1000 US dollars as a loan, and each farmer used the loans to buy inputs to produce a hectare of potatoes for a start.”
Most farmers chose to grow potato varieties with a short growing period. Miss Maphosa says the association made a profit of $16,000 US dollars. She explains, “We harvested about 30 tonnes and sold each 15-kilogram packet for $8 US dollars.”
The Zimbabwean government promotes potatoes as a food security crop. For the 2012 to 2013 farming season, the government has promised to assist potato farmers with seeds and fertilizer to boost production. With the government’s support, the farmers in the association now want to grow 30 hectares of potatoes.
Mr. Ronald Museka is the chairman of the Potato Council of Zimbabwe. The organization represents potato farmers and lobbies government on their behalf. It assisted Miss Maphosa’s association with farming techniques and machinery. The Council also links farmers with traders. Mr. Museka explains: “We want to make sure there is adequate production for the local market.”
Recently the government imposed a ban on potato imports in order to protect and promote farmers like Miss Maphosa. Mr. Museka supports the government’s decision and says it should maintain the ban. He explains: “We want the importation of potatoes to be banned unless … there is a shortage in the country. There should be punitive measures on those caught smuggling potatoes into the country.”
Potato farming has made life bearable for the HIV positive Miss Maphosa. She says. “Life is no longer a stress. I have also managed to pay back about half of the $1000 US dollar loan that I took from Zubo Trust.”