TODAY, Zambia joins the rest of the globe in celebrating World Food Day, which falls on October 16, under the theme “Change the future of migration: Investing in food security and rural development”.
As we celebrate this important day in the UN calendar, it is an opportunity for countries including Zambia to evaluate the progress made so far in alleviating hunger as well as celebrate achievements.
While for a long time women have been in the background of all economic activities, including farming, it is encouraging that more women are now coming to the fore and taking their rightful positions.
In farming, particularly, Zambia has in the recent years seen more women take a lead in agricultural activities thereby contributing to food security.
One such woman is Pamela Thole, owner of Pamllo Seed and Agro Products Limited and a member of the Graca Machel Trust African Women in Business Network.
Mrs Thole, who is an agriculturalist by profession, has in the last six years ventured in the production and sale of varieties of improved agricultural seeds for beans, soya beans, cowpeas, groundnuts and OP maize.
Through her business, she is currently impacting and working with 80 to 100 small-scale farmers through an out-grower scheme in the rural parts of Mumbwa, Central Province.
According to Mrs Thole, who also wears the hat of managing director for the company, Pamllo contracts farmers comprising 60 percent women to grow varieties of improved seeds which provide a good and quality yield for food security and balanced nutrition.
Pamllo sources improved seeds from Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI), which is responsible for producing high yielding varieties of beans – Lukupa, soyabeans – Lukanga , cowpeas – Lutembwe and groundnuts and supplies these to farmers.
To ensure quality control, Pamllo staff, together with the Seed Control and Certification Institute (SCCI) field seed inspectors, monitor the crops throughout the growing season.
After harvest and quality certification, Pamllo buys these seeds from farmers at a cost less the inputs provided and packages them in 5kg packs and sells them to farmers who now grow grain for consumption and sale as a cash crop.
Through the out-grower scheme, Pamllo is not only providing farmers with an income but food security and an improved standard of living – making their lives in the rural area bearable.
And through the contracted seed growers, Mrs Thole is also providing jobs for youths who are hired as paid labour during seed production. This is besides eight employees on Pamllo’s payroll.
Besides helping farmers grow high yield seeds, her company also trains them in preservation and value addition of vegetables and some crops grown.
For instance, vegetables are processed and dried using natural drying methods while other agricultural products are also processed into various finished products such as pounded groundnuts and maize grits.
This ensures improved nutrition as well as food security.
The World Food Day theme for this year emphasises the importance of investing in food security and rural development to address the challenge of hunger migration.
Pamllo’s contribution to farmers in Mumbwa will certainly help prevent hunger migration in the area.
It is a known fact that in Zambia, like many other developing countries, urbanisation is rampant as rural dwellers trek to the cities in search of a better life.
In Zambia many people, especially those in rural areas, still live with seasonal food insecurity and malnutrition as a result of poor diets. The 2015 living conditions monitoring survey indicates that 76.6 percent of the population in rural areas is poor, compared to 23.4 percent in urban areas.
United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and World Food Programme (WFP) statistics indicate that about 40 percent of children under the age of five suffer from stunted growth while 15 percent are underweight.
The prevalence of anaemia is 53 percent among children under five years of age and 30 percent among women of child-bearing age.
The high levels of malnutrition are despite the bumper harvests the country has been recording in past farming seasons.
In the 2016/2017 farming season, for instance, Zambia recorded a bumper harvest of 3.61 million metric tonnes with a carryover stock level of 567,000 metric tonnes thereby exceeding the national cereal requirement of 1.18 million metric tonnes.
The levels of malnutrition validate the fact that food security is not just about high production, but availability and access to enough diverse and good-quality foods, clean water and safe sanitation.
These statistics also indicate the need to further strengthen our food systems to ensure food security and good nutrition for citizens, especially those in rural areas.
Pamllo, through multiplication of improved seed, therefore contributes to strengthening of the food system at the input stage. This is important because input determines the output.
It therefore goes to say that high yield seed leads to high yield of grain and subsequently food security.
Through promotion of diverse improved seeds, Pamllo is also helping the country move away from mono cropping of maize, which is a challenge when it comes to providing balanced diets.
The FAO Food Balance Sheet calculation indicates that, on average, only two percent of calories consumed by Zambians are from pulses, vegetables, and nuts, highlighting the dire need for dietary diversity.
There is therefore need for women like Mrs Thole with passion to contribute to the country’s food security and good nutrition to be supported and indeed celebrated.
Her case is just an eye-opener to how women are contributing to agriculture and food security.
So far Mrs Thole has benefitted from the support of the Graca Machel Trust African Women in Business Network through participation in projects like the Food Basket.
The network has been instrumental in providing a platform for information sharing on business opportunities, capacity building and sourcing of funds and inputs.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail Editorials Editor.