ALVIN CHIINGA, Mumbwa
THEY have become a common spectacle in most of Mumbwa and Chibombo districts’ hinterlands as they are dotted around villages and main roads.
A visitor can hardly miss the sight of the blue four cornered buildings connected to a cluster of myriad solar panels.
These are solar-powered milling plants which in these rural set-ups have started making a difference in the livelihoods of people.
The Zambia Cooperative Federation (ZCF) is installing 2,000 milling plants countrywide and over half of the plants have been installed so far.
Senior headwoman Tumbama in-chief Mumba’s area in Mumbwa, together with 10 other village headmen in the surrounding villages, is upbeat at the installation of what they are now calling life-changing machines.
“We commend Government through President Lungu for the solar-powered milling plants which are being installed in our areas by ZCF,” she said on behalf of the other traditional leaders.
Headwoman Tumbama is overwhelmed and said the milling plants in the district will change the lives of the people once they are all operational.
A recent visit revealed that there is a lot of work that the ZCF is doing to finalise the installation of the plants in the area.
As for the ones that are operational, the emphasis has changed from just milling but to go a step further to package the mealie-meal.
Mumbwa district commissioner Felix Ndopu said the district received a total of 33 solar-powered milling plants which are now being installed.
Mr Ndopu said that Mumbwa and Chibombo districts are among the major contributors to the food basket in the country and will use the milling plants efficiently.
He said with the coming of the milling plants, Government through ZCF is emphasising that farmers should consider value addition to their farm products such as maize.
“Most of the farmers here sell their maize straight from the maize field and they in turn buy the same maize now as mealie-meal after value has been added to it,” he said.
Mr Ndopu said this is what the solar powered milling plants will try to work out in Mumbwa district because farmers have realised that once they add value to their produce, then they will end up making more profit.
Since time immemorial, the farming community in most parts of the country, including Mumbwa and Chibombo districts, has never thought of adding value to their maize.
In Mumbwa district, the Sela Tubombeko Youth Co-operative is one of the recipients of one solar milling plant and the members are geared to make a difference.
Co-operative chairperson, Albert Mutale said the coming of solar milling plants in the district is actually a revolution which will make gigantic steps in agricultural development.
“Right now we have started engaging farmers, both commercial and small scale, to start bringing their maize to us so that we could enter into some memoranda of understanding,” he said.
Mr Mutale said once farmers start bringing their maize to the cooperative, they will be assured of getting a much better profit because they will graduate from selling maize to already packaged mealie-meal.
Still in Mumbwa district, another receiver of a solar milling plant, the Matala Multi-purpose Cooperative Society, looks ready for the value-addition challenge.
Cooperative chairperson Harry Mutabi says the solar milling plant will serve over 5,000 people.
“We have started linking farmers to the market. Farmers will be bringing their maize here so that we add value to it through grinding it and packaging it before selling it to the markets that we are establishing such as boarding schools in the district,” Mr Mutabi said.
Mr Mutabi said the cooperative is optimistic that once this programme comes to fruition, a 50 kilogramme bag of maize will cost as low as K40.
He however bemoaned the lack of storage capacity at the cooperative after receiving large volumes of maize from farmers.
About 34km west of Lusaka, Shamakamba Smallholder Cooperative, another recipient of a solar milling plant, is already serving over 1,000 clients.
Its executive secretary, Bornwell Lubole, said the solar milling plant started working in January this year and the benefits are there for all to see.
Mr Lubole said people used to cover long distances to grind their maize but not anymore, much to the delight of the villagers.
“Though we have been making small profits through charging people for using the plant to have their maize ground, the bigger picture now is value addition,” he said.
The cooperative now wants to approach ZCF for assistance to enable them add more value to the product by way of proper packaging of mealie-meal.
Mr Lubole said they will use their proximity to Lusaka to find market for their mealie-meal and farm produce.
“We have realised that we need to start selling already packaged mealie-meal so that our farmers are able to get more profit,” he said.
One of the farmers in the area, Catherine Shamakamba, a widow looking after two children, said value addition through product packaging cannot be over-emphasised.
Ms Shamakamba said this will guarantee farmers maximum benefits from their produce.
In Chief Liteta‘s area in Chibombo district, the story is the same as the Watajata Multi-purpose Cooperative is also considering value addition to their produce through packaging.
Chairperson Trust Hachiyabu of Kalusa village said the over 2,500 people benefitting from the solar milling plant will get more benefits from well-packaged mealie-meal.
Mr Hachiyabu said his cooperative is looking at local boarding schools such as Kafushi and Wambwa as potential markets for the mealie-meal.
Just like in many other places in the two districts, the farmers are elated and cannot wait for the value-addition exercise to begin.