By Bellah Zulu and Musonda Chipili, Joint Country Programme Zambia (JCP)
An innovative Christian Aid project, officially launched in Zambia in January 2018, has mobilised and empowered small-scale farmers and entrepreneurs in Central Province through continuous agro-based, gender equality and social inclusion, and entrepreneurship training.
The project, Making Agriculture a Business (MAB) which is being implemented by Christian Aid in Zambia in partnership with Churches Health Association of Zambia (CHAZ), targets over 4,000 small scale farmers and entrepreneurs, mostly women and youths, in the three target Districts of Mumbwa, Kapiri Mposhi and Chisamba.
The Making Agriculture a Business project emphasises capacity building over unsustainable handouts which many people in the area had become used to over the years. Christian Aid Zambia’s Coordinator for Economic Empowerment and Project Manager Kingsley Cheelo shed more light on the unique approach when he said:
'The project design itself focuses on mindset change through capacity building and not handouts. The major aim of the project ultimately is to make sure that small scale farmers adopt better production techniques to make sure that they remain productive throughout the year instead of just depending on rain fed agriculture. This will diversify their sources of income.'
Gender and equality training
The Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) training emphasised participation and inclusion in project design and implementation. 'Consulting everyone in my family regardless of their gender when it comes to making key decisions has bound us as a family.'
'However, I think the greatest benefit from this project is the realisation that it is not just about material support but the knowledge that someone gains and is ready to share and utilise. We have even exceeded our target number of groups because there is now great interest from the community around us after seeing how this project is helping us with knowledge.'
Mr. Mwangala explained how the knowledge from the MAB project has helped him at household level:
'The project has motivated me to acquire a piece of land where our family plans to start keeping goats and chickens. All that we need now is some capital to help me fully utilise my knowledge and skills from the project.
'We’re also stressing the need to form strong groups which are now in the process of forming cooperatives and so far, groups in Mpunde area have formed an interim cooperative committee to oversee the management of activities at the demonstration site where Christian Aid Zambia and CHAZ have now sunk a borehole.'
The availability of water for agro-based initiatives is strategic within the production cycle. Another beneficiary of the project Sharon Machina of St Paul’s area talked of the joy from her community after a borehole for the demonstration site was sunk in her area:
'The borehole that was sunk will be useful at our demo plots and households especially this year when we have experienced droughts. The whole community was very excited and even offered to help clear the area and road leading to the borehole site.'
'It’s also good that this project focusses on capacity building first before any material help comes because then people will be able to know how to manage themselves and activities after the project is phased out.'
However, two groups in her area dropped out because of lack of commitment and participation in project. 'The problem is that they wanted immediate material support and not training.'
The project has also encouraged Sharon to go back to school by attending evening classes so that she can improve her chances of running a successful business even after the project. She said:
'The MAB project will definitely benefit a lot of people and a lot of us will become self-sufficient by the time the project comes to an end.'
Church Health Institutions
One of the greatest strengths of the project remains CHAZ’s use of member Church Health Institutions (CHIs) who work very closely and interact with the local administration and other development players such as Agriculture Extension Officers who have a great understanding of community dynamics and have kept track of any interventions that might conflict or indeed lead to duplication. The relationship that CHAZ has with these CHIs has been key in getting updates on any new developments in the target areas.
While the early stages of the project focussed on capacity building around group formation, governance and management, the project is now moving on to more specialised agro-based training. The farmers will be able to acquire and utilise better farming methods such as drip irrigation, crop and livestock management and also use the co-operatives as a key marketing avenue.
The MAB project has so far mobilised a total of 209 groups comprising of 4,127 beneficiaries exceeding the initial target of 200 groups with 4,000 beneficiaries due to 'increased interest generated by the project in the target districts'.
The project aims to encourage favourable socio-cultural norms which foster equitable participation of women, men and youths in business development. It also addresses some of the challenges faced by small-scale farmers, including low business skills, inappropriate support infrastructure, constrained market opportunities, and limited production capacity.