YANDE SYAMPEYO, Sinda
FRESH vegetables are an important part of the human diet because of the nutrients they provide to the body.
However, vegetable cultivation offer numerous business opportunities for a household.
Surplus vegetable cultivated by a household usually find a ready market and can be sold, for example, to neighbours, to a local market and to traders.
Various types of vegetables have the potential to provide a valuable source of family income.
Vegetables have immense economic potential, especially in small-scale commercial production.
The cost of setting up a vegetable plantation is not excessive as it requires only a small parcel of land, with minimal capital and it has the potential to provide an initial step towards establishing an income base for poorer households.
Sinda district in Eastern Province is one such area that has adopted this concept of vegetable production for nutritious food for the family, while at the same time developing the concept of marketing surplus produce for cash.
However, like all other aspects of primary production, vegetable production requires a wide range of skills.
Some of these skills, for example, are harvesting at the correct stage of maturity.
Other key areas of expertise include using appropriate sowing (or planting) dates, correct plant spacing, fertiliser rates, choice of site, weed control, irrigation strategy, pest and disease management, among others.
Luckily for a group of a 150 small-scale farmers in Sinda district, Community Oriented Development Programme (CODEP), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) has come to their aid and is imparting skills for successful cultivation of vegetables.
â€œYou do not have to own a farm to become a successful farmer. You could always rent some land for your own kind of farming.â€
Thatâ€™s the belief of Yalulani Phiri of Chikomo village, a beneficiary of the CODEP project. He is considered one of the champion vegetable growers in Sinda, if not in the whole province, growing high-value vegetables.
Through expertise from CODEP, Mr Phiri harvests cabbage, rape, beans and onion, among others, on a three-acre parcel of traditional land.
He does not have any problem cultivating the land in terms of labour as he has a supportive wife and family who render a helping hand.
A father of six, Mr Phiri started cultivating vegetables in March last year and he uses dug out wells for irrigation.
Previously, his yield was poor but after he and other small-scale farmers underwent training with CODEP, the â€˜storyâ€™ changed for the better.
Mr Phiri, who sells his produce in the central business district of Sinda and surrounding areas, boasts of owning a house and motor vehicle from selling vegetables.
â€œInitially, my business was not performing as well as I wished it would but after CODEP came to our rescue, I can safely say Iâ€™m a proud farmer as this business is sustaining the livelihood of my family.
â€œIâ€™m now able to support my childrenâ€™s education and at the same time, the nutrition of the family is perfect as we eat healthy,â€ Mr Phiri says.
He says the cultivation of vegetables requires discipline, patience and determination.
Mr Phiri, however, cites lack of a ready market as a hindrance to his business.
â€œAt times, due to competition and lack of a ready market, we are forced to reduce the cost to enable us sell our produce quickly,â€ Mr Phiri says.
CODEP has trained 150 vulnerable but viable small-scale farmers to grow various types of vegetables to reduce poverty and subsequently improve nutrition.
The vegetable cultivation project dubbed â€˜Integrated natural resource managementâ€™ has encompassed 50 women and 100 men farmers from different villages across the district.
CODEP executive director Joseph Mwale says the programme was â€˜bornâ€™ last year after stakeholders realised that despite Eastern Province being one of the major producers of the staple food, maize is also one of the areas with the highest percent of malnutrition.
Mr Mwale, who is also the project co-ordinator, says the vulnerable but viable farmers were identified through development committees in partnership with the traditional leadership.
He explains that the farmers were trained how to make vegetables a lucrative business through the use of modern farming methods.
Mr Mwale adds that the cultivation of the vegetables is not only meant to sustain household income but to improve the nutrition of people in the province.
â€œWe trained the farmers on how to set up a nursery, sowing and planting, among others. And as a start-up capital, we gave them seeds. We also encourage them to use organic fertiliser to reduce on costs.
â€œSo, the farmers produce cabbage, rape, tomatoes, onions, pumpkin leaves and okra, among other vegetables,â€ Mr Mwale says.
He says the project, which was designed as a revolving programme, has been successful so far as it has improved the welfare of the beneficiary farmers.
â€œOf course, not all farmers have been successful as others have encountered challenges, especially when it comes to water for fields but the successful ones boast of buying cars, household goods and they can support the education of their children,â€ he said.
Mr Mwale says successful farmers in the project are encouraged to extend their expertise to other households as well assisting them with the seeds.
He says before the close of this year, 250 small scale farmers would benefit from the programme.
Sinda district commissioner Paradious Sakala hails CODEP for initiating the project.
Mr Sakala says the cultivation of vegetables has reduced famine and malnutrition in the district.
He, however, laments that inadequate water for irrigation is proving a challenge for most farmers.
â€œWe had requested some treadle pumps from the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) Investment Holding to give to farmers who are facing difficulties executing the project.
â€œOur vision is to make Sinda a very productive district to feed the province,â€ he says.
Mr Sakala is also in talks with boarding schools and supermarkets in the province to strike a deal for the supply of the produce by the vegetable farmers.
â€œI want to lobby for market for the vegetables because as a Patriotic Front administration under President Lungu, we care about the welfare of our farmers,â€ Mr Sakala said.
Vegetable plantation an economic potential
YANDE SYAMPEYO, Sinda