BENEDICT TEMBO, Mazabuka
PHANUEL Hankede has every reason to stand tall among Mazabuka residents: he has found sugarcane cultivation profitable.
He has been a smallholder farmer for 29 years â€“ almost all his working life.
A former cotton farmer, Mr Hankede, 56, says as a sugarcane farmer, he has attained self actualisation as he is now able to send his children to higher institutions of learning and buy vehicles.
Before venturing into sugarcane growing, Mr Hankede, a father of 10, grew maize for his familyâ€™s subsistence and cotton as a cash crop.
But the man who was born at Ngwezi Settlement Scheme in Magoye, Mazabuka, about 32 kilometres from Kaleya, was unable to break even. His father, Mweemba Hankede, a widower still lives there.
But things began to change for the better for Mr Hankede 30 years ago when he joined the network of outgrowers under the Kaleya Smallholders Company Limited (KASCOL).
â€œI saw an advert in the press by KASCOL for indigenous Zambians to join and participate in sugarcane growing,â€ Mr Hankede, who completed his adult form five education (grade 12) from Mazabuka School of Continuing Education in 2008, says.
Mr Hankede did his primary education at Chitongo Primary School in Magoye from 1969 to 1975, and junior secondary school from 1976 to 1978 at Pemba Secondary School.
The man, who also holds a certificate in business management, did not waste his time in making a decision to join a community of outgrowers and he, like others, underwent a six-month training in sugarcane production operations in 1985.
Mr Hankede says on completion of his training, he was allocated a smallholder sugarcane plot of four hectares by KASCOL. He increased the hectarage to six in 2001.
The initial training involved land preparation, sugarcane planting, irrigation, fertilising, harvesting and gleaning, weed control â€“ both hand-weeding and herbicide application as well as disease control such as smut rouging.
Team work, record keeping, personal financial management, capacity building â€“ corporate governance issues which include how to conduct meetings, improving communication among farmers, were also part of training.
At the end of the training, Mr Hankede and his fellow â€˜graduandsâ€™ signed a cane farmers agreement with KASCOL, which outlines obligations and rights of smallholder farmers.
The contract also outlines KASCOLâ€™s obligations to the farmers.
â€œThere is provision for succession in the event of death or if one is incapacitated, the spouse and children become the successors,â€ Mr Hankede says.
Making a presentation at the Federation of Southern African Development Community Sugar Producers Conference from July 15 to 17, 2015 in Livingstone, Mr Hankede said what makes the KASCOL model sustainable and successful is that it organises bulky supply of inputs such as fertilisers and chemicals on behalf of smallholders, which makes the inputs cost lower.
â€œKASCOL is responsible for ensuring adequate water supply through Zambia Sugar for irrigation of smallholder sugarcane plots,â€ he said.
Mr Hankede, who is one of the 160 outgrowers, said KASCOL has also assisted smallholders to re-plant their cane in the last four years and achieve high yields, citing the 2014-2015 season when smallholders had 128 tonnes of cane per hectare, which was a great achievement.
He accounted for 162 tonnes of raw sugarcane.
â€œKASCOL provides overall administration support to smallholder farmers. All inputs are recoverable from the smallholder farmers at harvest time,â€ he said.
Mr Hankede is particularly happy that KASCOL organises training from time to time for smallholder farmers to refresh their knowledge and skills.
â€œThe KASCOL oversight is key in providing stability to the scheme, which guarantees sustainability. As a small sugarcane grower, I have benefited from increased incomes that come with growing sugar cane. I can now afford to send my children to colleges and universities â€“ two are in colleges and one is at a university in Lusaka,â€ he said with pride.
Malambo, the third born, is at Monze College of Education, Mutinta the fourth child is at Lusaka Apex University, while Namoonga, the fifth born, is at Evelyn Hone College of Applied Arts and Commerce in Lusaka.
Hachiwa, the first born and Choolwe, the second born â€“ are employees of KASCOL.
Maambo, the seventh child is in grade 12 while Kasamba who follows is in grade 10, Luyando is in grade Six, Chipego is in Grade Two and Chilauka is in nursery school.
â€œAs a smallholder farmer at KASCOL, my whole lifestyle and thinking has changed. I can afford a modern home with electricity, at least two cars for transport to manage our work and big family,â€ Mr Hankede, who is a trustee on the Mazabuka Sugarcane Growers Trust and board member at KASCOL, said.
With issues of global climate change, Mr Hankede, the second in a family of nine â€“ five men and four women, says irrigated cash crops have remained the only source of hope for improved life in rural communities.
â€œFor me, KASCOL as a company has facilitated this and made the model a great success story of supporting smallholder farmers. I enjoy my work as a smallholder farmer because it has impacted positively on my life and those of fellow smallholders in Mazabuka, and KASCOL is a key factor in making it work,â€ he said.
Despite the hugely successful venture, Mr Hankede admits that there are also challenges, which include communicating with smallholder farmers because the levels of literacy and exposure vary.
He says it takes passion and discipline to achieve vision and success.
The other challenge is getting smallholder farmers to understand their business obligations and governance rules that dictate the business world.
KASCOL was formed in 1980 by Government with the Development Bank of Zambia (DBZ), the Commonwealth Development Trust (CDC), Barclays Bank and Zambia Sugar Plc as shareholders.
It was restructured in 2005 following the withdrawal of shareholders such as Barclays Bank and CDC which offloaded their shares and exited.
Zambia Sugar Plc also technically exited by donating its 25 percent shares to the Mazabuka community through the formation of the Mazabuka Sugarcane Growers Trust where Mr Hankede is a trustee, with the objective of promoting and facilitating the development of sugarcane growing by Zambians.
According to the current structure, the companies that own KASCOL are Mazabuka Sugarcane Growers Trust (25 percent), DBZ (25 percent), the 160 smallholder farmers who have an organisation called Kaleya Smallholders Trust owning 19.5 percent, Viewpoint (17 percent) and Growers Investment Holdings which owns 13.5 percent shares.
â€œAt the moment, the beneficiaries of the trust are 160 smallholder farmers at KASCOL, 82 farmers in Magobbo, 145 farmers in Manyonyo in Nega Nega, benefitting approximately 400 households,â€ Mr Hankede said.
BENEDICT TEMBO, Mazabuka