Every day too many people around the world still go to bed on an empty stomach, small-scale farmers in developing countries, notably, work hard throughout the year but cannot produce enough to feed their children. Thus, it’s become a challenge in achieving the second so-called ‘sustainable development goal’, which calls for a commitment to end hunger, achieve food security, and improve nutrition by 2030. As part of my AFE, I decided to work on this issue and learn more about it. So, I did my internship at Tevel in Zambia and worked on a baseline study and designing a project focusing on livelihood improvement of small holder famers. Tevel is an Israeli NGO working in the field of international development since 2006, focusing on agriculture-based community development, working with vulnerable rural communities in developing countries.
In Zambia, 72 per cent of the population’s major livelihood activities is smallholder farming, mainly cultivating maize and livestock rearing. Approximately 60 per cent of people live below the poverty line, and 42 per cent are considered extremely poor. Zambia falls under the category of extremely alarming levels of hunger, as the global hunger index report 2019 (GHI) estimated around 1.7 million Zambians are at risk of facing severe acute food insecurity and nearly 2.3 million are at risk of facing starvation. Food insecurity affects various aspects of community life and is a leading cause of poor health while it also slows progress in many other areas of development like education, employment, and creates further economic instability in the region. The followings are challenges in achieving Food Security in Zambia based on my field observation:
- Smallholder Farming, Low Productivity and Poor Input Supply: Farmers produce less than adequate supplies of crops for their annual intake. Factors that lead to low production include lack of sufficient plant nutrients, incidences of crop pests, changing climate patterns and low-quality seeds/lack of access to better seeds and other inputs. Farmers are only growing maize and a few vegetables such as spinach and tomatoes. Thus, there is no diversification of crops, and farmers are therefore totally dependent upon these few crops, which makes them vulnerable for food insecurity and undernourishment.
- Climate change: Climate change also has significant effects on food security of Zambia. Agricultural output in Zambia depends heavily upon its natural environment, including the climate, since most of the cultivation is entirely dependent upon rain and there is no efficient mechanism for irrigation. Low rainfall in the past few years affected Southern province, Western province and parts of Lusaka, while flash floods were in the northern and eastern parts of the country. “The devastating effects of dry spells, water logging, and false and late starts to the rainy season on agriculture production were the main causes of reduced food availability and food access, thus contributing to the acute food insecurity conditions across the country”. Moreover, smallholder farmers are most likely the first to be affected by climate change due to their high dependency on natural factors for their food production as well as limited variety of crops they cultivate, as mentioned earlier, which inevitably leads to increased vulnerability to hunger. Smallholder farmers in Zambia have heard about climate change but don’t know enough about how to combat climate change.
- Lack of Appropriate Technology and Irrigation: Changes in global climate patterns increase the vulnerability of residents living in these drought prone areas. Thus, appropriate farming technology and irrigation systems and techniques are vital to retain the stability of crop cultivation in the area. However, most smallholder farmers do not have access to irrigation facilities. Most canals built in the southern regions pass through the land of smallholder farmers, but they cannot access these canals because they are meant for growing sugar cane, a commercial crop mostly owned by foreign companies. On the one hand, the government is getting revenue from the commercial production of sugar cane, but on the other hand small holder farmers are left out from the access to those facilities and therefore prevented from improving their access to food. So, the benefits of globalization haven’t reached the average citizens like the smallholder farmers in Zambia. In addition, farmers cannot afford boreholes; thus, they are forced to depend upon the rainfall.
- Poor Extension Services and Lack of Skilled Human Resources: To deal with changing conditions, it is important that local farmers receive training in which they are introduced to new growing methods that would allow them to increase yields and practice efficient land use. Introducing other types of crops, particularly drought and flood resistance, is also very important. Currently, the number of agriculture technicians assigned to the country is insufficient since they are responsible for a large area at one time. Many farmers report having received little to no training from the technicians necessary to improve their livelihood. There is not much diversification of crops, and farmers do not have proper knowledge. To adapt to changing conditions, both environmental and socio-cultural, trainings and introduction of more progressive growing methods and crop diversification are necessary for local farmers to maintain their livelihood and food security.
Insufficient Investment in the Agriculture Sector and Marketing Facilities: Considering that the overwhelming percentage of Zambia’s workforce and livelihood is related to the agriculture sector, there should be a higher investment in skills development, technology and accessibility in the sector. Currently, most farmers lack the information necessary to improve their production yield and land management. Technological, financial and human resource investments are extremely lacking in the country, which creates a huge challenge to improve the livelihood situation of smallholder farmers
I am departing now from my observation of food security and would like to briefly discuss about my AFE activities in this section. I was part of the program team responsible for conducting need assessment of selected communities, develop a ‘theory of change’ and design the project using participatory approach. We conducted a baseline survey, focus group discussion and various levels of stakeholder meetings. The key message from those processes was project should focus on improving food security at the household and individual levels and enhance the farming skills and knowledge. Therefore, the newly designed program focused on enhancing social capital and collective work such as community irrigation schemes, cooperatives, collective farming and communal marketing. Collective farming involves collective work in the areas of land cultivation, inputs purchasing, irrigation facility provision, problem-management, products, transportation, and marketing; whereas each farmer still grows his/her crops individually. In this way, a farmer can reduce the cost of production, optimize work efficiency, and increase market accessibility. Further, the program also focused on sensitization on harvesting water for off-season production. Additionally, promotion of kitchen gardens to add another source for nutritious vegetables and extra income for the family while utilizing the wastewater from kitchen as a source of irrigation.
The project is in early stage now, and farmers and woman groups are being formed. They have also started the micro-finance project (village-banking) to support their farming and small business in the future. One demonstration farm is already established with various irrigation system such as sprinklers, drip and shallow wells. This demonstration plot gradually turns into an Agriculture training and resource center, and then more people from Kafue and nearby districts will benefit. Further, farmers are in the process of acquiring land to begin the collective farming. Thus, the past few months were mostly dedicated for preparatory work. However, all these processes able to bring big motivation for the people and they all are very excited to implement all the plans. I send my best wishes for its success. I feel very proud and grateful for being part of the process.