NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka
THE small scale farmer has been viewed as the solution to ending poverty in the country, but the vast majority of them produce between one and 2.5 metric tonnes of maize per hectare, yet they have access to seeds that have a yield potential of over 10 metric tonnes per hectare. It is said this is the reason small-scale farmers in Zambia are still trapped in poverty. But further to this is the issue that small-scale farmers in Zambia have for a long time lacked social protection.
According to a 2016 report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) called ‘Practical Options for the Extension of Social Protection Coverage in Zambia: Small Scale Farmers’, the right to social protection is a human right which, along with promoting employment, is an economic and social necessity for development and progress.
The report notes how small-scale farmers are exposed to a large range of uncertainties such as changes in market prices, availability and prices of resources and inputs, seasonal cycles, droughts or floods, crop pests and diseases.
It further notes that most small-scale farmers have limited resources and opportunities for protection against adverse stresses and shocks which lead to high vulnerabilities.
“Social protection, as a risk management mechanism, reduces insecurity and vulnerabilities and their negative effects on poverty and growth. Well-designed and well-implemented social protection policies have the potential to help rural small-scale farmers expand their assets, increase productivity, protect them from risks and adopt higher risk activities which would generate higher return”, the report states.
National Union of Small Scale Farmers in Zambia (NUSFAZ), director of outreach and member services, Emack Kaoma says the union is considering a concept which will empower the Zambian small-scale farmer through a partnership with the National Pension Scheme Authority (NAPSA) as the scheme provider and the National Small Scale Farmers’ Union, which represents farmers’ interests.
Aubrey Chibumba has devised the concept which argues the case for social protection among small-scale farmers.
Dr Chibumba says the concept will help NAPSA extend coverage to the informal sector.
“If you analyse what is happening at the small scale farmers level, the major issue is that small-scale farmers in Zambia lack social protection of any kind,” he explains.
He says if social protection is not incorporated in the small scale farming sector, when the farmers get to old age, they will have nothing to cushion them financially.
This has contributed in part to the rural-urban drift where people have migrated to the towns in search of security.
Dr Chibumba argues that incorporating social protection will give small-scale farmers security by creating a stable economic environment in rural areas.
Mr Kaoma echoes Dr Chibumba’s sentiments by stating that the union’s role is to organise farmers who will be beneficiaries of a social protection scheme once it is in effect.
Through the scheme, the union is hopeful that it can start with an initial number of 5,000 small-scale farmers as beneficiaries located in Zambia’s various districts.
“As a country we have been lagging behind in terms of small-scale farmer mobilisation. Since independence there has never been a dedicated structure to pull the farmers together so that they operate in an organised manner,” he shares, while emphasising that the role of the union is to ensure small-scale farmers benefit from ventures designed to serve their needs.
The union has been in existence since 2014 with dedicated structures in 36 districts nationwide.
NAPSA director of contributions and benefits, Mason Mwiinga, explained that NAPSA has a project in place abbreviated as SPIREWORK, which stands for Social Protection for Rural Economic Workers and one of whose focus groups is small-scale farmers.
This project entails NAPSA’s partnership with farmers’ organisations, out-grower schemes and farmers’ unions who will become mediators in NAPSA’s quest to extend coverage.
Chimfwembe Nsofu, a member of the union and a small-scale farmer in Chibombo district, says a social protection scheme for small scale farmers would be a welcome move to directly benefit those farmers approaching retirement.
Ms Nsofu says due to the lack of social protection, many farmers in rural areas are forced to work even when they have grown to old age and are physically incapable of farming.
“Such a scheme will greatly benefit small-scale farmers because every person must at some point go into retirement as their working ability diminishes,” Ms Nsofu says.
She adds that some farmers are forced to work in old age because mainly, they lack adequate social cover in old age.
According to Ms Nsofu, the provision of a pension to small-scale farmers who have reached old age would enable those farmers to hire casual labourers to assist them farm when they are no longer physically able to do so.
NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka