VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka
THE 2018 Agriculture and Commercial Show (ACS) held from August 1-6 brought many small- scale farmers in one place to compete in various categories of agricultural production.The categories included the pumpkin competition, in which farmers were judged based on the size of their pumpkins.
It was an amazing exhibition of pumpkins of different sizes. Farmers showcased a variety of agricultural products that included maize, groundnuts, beans, sorghum and millet.
Show-goers, mainly women, who visited the Farmers’ Shelter to buy the different locally-grown foodstuffs, were amazed by the talent of farmers.
Memory Zimba of Lusaka’s Chilenje township takes every opportunity during the ACS period to stock her pantry with traditional foodstuffs.
“The Show Society often accords me the chance to buy a lot of local foodstuffs because in town, the price of dried food is expensive,” Ms Zimba said.
She says it is about time Zambians started appreciating local farmers by buying locally produced foods.
The appreciation of local foods by citizens is a morale booster for farmers to work extra hard to produce more food.
Small-scale farmers in Zambia are responsible for the production of most of the food that people consume.
From exhibitions at the ACS, it is evident that peasants are putting in their best to preserve traditional foods and ensure food security in the country.
Ednah Nkatya, a farmer in Chinsali, Muchinga Province, was one of the exhibitors at this year’s agriculture show who took part in the pumpkin competition.
Ms Nkatya grows different kinds of crops among them rice, pumpkins, beans, cassava, groundnuts, sunflower and different types of vegetables.
A mother of five, Ms Nkatya, is a perfect example of Government’s empowerment programme for small-scale but viable farmers.
She has been getting subsidised farm inputs through the electronic-voucher system since its introduction in 2015. The e-voucher system allows small-scale farmers to access farm inputs such as seeds, fertilisers and herbicides using electronic cards that are loaded with cash.
The e-voucher system has given farmers the freedom to choose what to plant and also presents the option of buying livestock.
“Under the e- voucher system, I deposit K400 to be eligible to receive seven bags of fertiliser. The fertiliser goes a long way in helping me have a better yield,” Ms Nkatya said.
Moving in line with the show theme dubbed “Sustainable Economic Empowerment”, she is capable of supporting her failing although she is yet to reach the level that she has set for herself in farming.
A single parent, Ms Nkatya is able to take her children to school. Three of them have completed Grade 12 and are yet to go for tertiary education.
She started farming with crop production alone, but has now diversified into livestock farming.
“I keep goats, rabbits, ducks and village chickens,” she says adding that she also does fish farming.
Ms Nkatya commends Government for introducing of the e-voucher system, that has transformed her life and that of her family.
“Without Government support, I was not going to manage to take my children to school, clothe them and ensure that they have nutritious food,” she says.
Government appreciates the role of small -scale farmers in food production and the creation of food security at household and national level.
This is on realisation that although they contribute more to the national food basket, they constitute the largest population of farmers with little knowledge.
Ministry of Agriculture Permanent Secretary Julius Shawa says Government has put in place measures to enhance the productivity of subsistent farmers as a way to economically empower them.
Mr Shawa said through extension officers dotted around the country, small-scale farmers have been acquiring agricultural knowledge, hence increasing their productivity.
The farmers are also taught how to market their agricultural products.
The implementation of the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) is another way Government is working to empower the small-holder farmers.
“The emphasis of FISP programme is to improve supply and delivery of agricultural inputs to farmers through sustainable private sector participation at affordable costs to increase household food security and incomes,” Mr Shawa said.
He said the e-voucher system has also helped to open up private sector participation in FISP through the involvement of local agro-dealers and national suppliers.
The involvement of local agro-dealers is creating job opportunities, while the use of e-voucher cards is helping to link farmers to banking services.
The Agriculture and Commercial Society of Zambia (ACSZ) is also supplementing Government efforts in its own way.
ACSZ president Caroline Silwamba said small- scale farmers normally go through a three-day seminar annually in which they are taught how to add value to their products.
This year, the topics included production of spirulina and mushroom, aquaculture and agricultural insurance. Other topics involved promoting sustainable business environment in Zambia.
Ms Nkatya who participated in the seminar, was happy to learn different ways of adding value to her products.
“I also learnt the production of mushroom and how to increase fish production,” she said.
It is the knowledge Ms Nkatya acquired from extension officers and seminars by the ACSZ that enabled her to produce big pumpkins that she was exhibiting at the just-ended 92nd ACS, although she did not win the competition.
VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka