MWAPE MWENYA, Lusaka
â€œIT IS unbelievable that I will no longer use a hoe to cultivate. It is even more unbelievable that I will no longer have so much time in the field like before,â€ Lina Zulu says.
Ms Zulu, 36, from Chief Nyampandeâ€™s chiefdom in Eastern Province, is a member of one of the womenâ€™s clubs that received a tractor. Government has been empowering rural women farmers in various parts of the country with tractors.
The club she belongs to, known as Tigwilizane. Women Club, recently received a tractor and trailer, disc plough, and other farm equipment to help boost farming which many residents in Chief Nyampande depend on.
â€œThis is the first time we are seeing this kind of gesture from Government. We will no longer be subjected to hard labour by using hoes to cultivate our land. Our yield in the next farming season will double,â€ she said.
The economic development of any country has in many cases been linked to a thriving agriculture sector.
The sector enhances food security, promotes growth among children and reduces or eliminates malnutrition.
This is why President Lungu recently advised farmers to diversify their crop and not only depend on maize, especially with unpredicted rain patterns which Zambia sometimes experiences.
Many people have realised that farming has become a good source of income. Government, through the Food Reserve Agency, has also increased the maize floor price for 2015/16 marketing season from K75 to K85 per 50kg bag.
And to demonstrate that Government is walking the talk, a number of cooperatives countrywide have been empowered with farm equipment and start-up capital.
Since last year, the Ministry of Gender has handed over 31 tractors to women cooperatives in 31 chiefdoms.
The tractors being distributed through the Agriculture Development Value Chain Enhancement (ADVANCE) indicates that Government attaches great importance to food security.
The ADVANCE project will run for five years (2015 to 2020) and will among other development issues create employment, enable parents to pay for their children`s education and promote nutrition at household level, especially for children under the age of five.
Ministry of Gender permanent secretary Edwidge Mutale said six ministries joined hands to ensure that the programme is a success.
The ministries are Ministry of Gender, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Agriculture. Others are Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry, Ministry of Community Development and Social Services and Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs.
The ministries promote diverse expertise by providing necessary assistance to beneficiaries of the programme.
Government has also procured 94 tillers (tractors) that are yet to be distributed to various cooperatives throughout the country.
â€œI want to make it clear that the Ministry of Gender has stopped receiving applications from women clubs under the economic empowerment fund. This is because Government has decided to concentrate on cooperatives,â€ Ms Mutale said.
â€œRecently, the Ministry of Gender issued about 299 cheques ranging from K5,000 to K10,000 per club, in Central, Lusaka and Copperbelt provinces. Once we are done with the giving out of funds to women that had applied, we will concentrate on the ADVANCE project.â€
Ms Mutale was quick to point out that society should not perceive the empowerment programmes to be politically motivated as the objective of the programmes is to fight poverty and contribute to national development.
â€œThere is no political affiliation to this programme, we have been running these programmes for a long time now. It caters for men, women and the youth who are willing to start-up businesses that will benefit them and society at large,â€ she said.
Ms Mutale advised women who wish to apply for the empowerment programmes to ensure that they follow laid- down procedures and ensure that they benefit from the programme.
â€œThe process is not tedious as perceived by some sections of society. The reason we want women to apply is also to ensure that the programme gets to the intended beneficiaries. We may end up empowering the same people and deprive others,â€ she said.
She said people should register with Patents and Companies Registration Agency (PACRA), Registrar of Societies or the local authorities in their respective places.
â€œIt is unfortunate that some people organise their family members and pretend to be a cooperative. This is why we want community members to register so that Government is convinced that it is a genuine group,â€ she said.
She advised communities to form cooperatives or join the already existing clubs in their respective areas.
And gender and development director Martha Mwitumwa said the programme is aimed at alleviating poverty among vulnerable women.
The programme started in 2010 where start-up capital and equipment in form of grants were distributed.
Ms Mwitumwa said the ministry revised the programme based on the findings that some women were not using the start-up capital for its intended purpose, which is venturing into business. As a result, Government funds were being misapplied.
â€œSometimes, the reason was lack of knowledge because the beneficiaries were not trained. This has prompted the inclusion of training this year,â€ Ms Mwitumwa said.
She said the programme is demand-driven and people identify the kind of programmes they want to venture into.
She emphasised that the tractors do not belong to traditional leaders but that traditional leaders are engaged in the programme because they are the custodians of land.
MWAPE MWENYA, Lusaka