MARGARET CHISANGA, Lusaka
SOMEWHERE between getting a degree, being a wife, mother of three children and having a full-time job, Yunike Phiri developed a desire to spend a life in commercial agriculture production.
“I would go to shopping malls and see all products, and would imagine how products from my farm would look on the shelf,” she said in an interview on the sidelines of an Ad hoc Expert Group Meeting on Land, Identity and Socio-economic Transformation in Southern Africa.
To satisfy this desire, she started growing vegetables for local consumption, but the crop was so successful that she was soon supplying to neighbours and workmates. This convinced her that she could succeed even at commercial level. By 2015, she had decided to take the leap and dive into commercial farming.
However, the University of Zambia 2007 development studies graduate realised farming is no easy task.
“I will be very honest with you, there is nothing sexy about farming, it requires a lot of hard work and a deeper understanding of weather patterns, market moods and technological transfer,” she said.
Yunike’s first crop was cabbage. She planted 10,000 heads of cabbage and this was a success as women from the market would travel to the farm to order.
Inspired by this first success, she resolved to continue with farming and proceeded to plant tomatoes on a 10 acre stretch of land in Lusaka.
However, mother Nature had her own plans and fate dealt her a raw card.
On October 6, a cholera outbreak was declared in the country after a laboratory confirmation of two initial cases reported by Chipata Level One Hospital. By December 2017, the outbreak spread to other parts of Lusaka. As a result of robust intervention by the Government and its partners, markets were semi-closed and trading was highly regulated.
Many farmers, including Yunike, watched helplessly as their stock slowly went to waste.
“I cried as I watched hundreds of bags of tomatoes rotting because I could not take them to the market, it was a huge loss which caused an emotional setback on my part, I was ready to give up,” she said.
With support and motivation from her husband, Charles Nhari, she was able to continue farming.
But this time she learnt to do it as a professional and started what she calls contract farming.
This involves finding customers well ahead of time and agreeing on set delivery and payment system.
“This period taught me about handling tough situations and trading as a professional,” she said.
She started attending farming training sessions wherever she heard about them. And as president of the Young Emerging Farmers Association, she sourced for partnerships with stakeholders to learn more about commercial agri-business.
These include the ministries of Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock, Zambia National Farmers Union and the Zambia Fruits and Vegetables Association.
“As an association of young farmers, we attend training sessions, and also source for capacity building opportunities from stakeholders. And we will continue to do so, so that as many young farmers as possible can be linked to markets and opportunities,” she said.
Yunike also registered Amicus farms, trading in fruit and vegetables, with plans to expand further and include a dairy section. The process involved getting all necessary documentation to ensure a level playing ground when it comes to souring for markets from supermarkets.
“This is something every farmer should know, get all your papers right, be tax-compliant, ensure you understand what the market needs so that you provide sustainable, good quality and healthy food,” she said.
The farm’s website page indicates that they use a traditional way of soil cultivating, based on cooperation with natural laws and local natural conditions.
“We perceive the soil as our partner which has to be kept healthy and treated with care. We try to use as little as possible of artificial nutrients. The growing of our type of vegetable crops reduce the requirement for bought-in fertilisers backed up by good land preparation,” the website states.
Red and yellow papers, cucumbers, and butternut have been planted at the farm.
Organisations such as the Economic Commission for Africa have recognised the strides being made by the association and constantly offer them a platform to engage.
“The mandate of the organisation is to help young people access land and enter into farming activities and also change the perception of farming as an agriculture business,” she said.
As president, Yunike was invited as a speaker at the Ad hoc Expert Group Meeting on Land, Identity and Socio-economic Transformation in Southern Africa in Livingstone, and she used the platform to call on stakeholders to help young people access land and have it on title.
“Once they get customary land, young people have a further challenge of changing the land to state land. The major challenges that this causes is that they are then unable to use the same land as collateral when they need to borrow money,” she said.
She said young female farmers need support in accessing land, resources and access to markets if they are to make significant contribution to the growth of agri-business in the country.
She said Government and key stakeholders should prioritise the role of small and medium-scale enterprises in land access and land utilisation focusing on the specific issues of access, ownership and control.
With about 10 employees, Yunike says it is important to create an environment where access to capacity building for young farmers is easy and affordable.
“At the moment we try to take the employees to trainings as well so that they also have capacity to manage large-scale farming because it is not an easy task. It requires knowledge of the process, crops being grown and most of all access to land and labour. And for a young person to succeed we need to have certain systems in place,” she said.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa’s Sub- Regional Office for Southern Africa (SRO-SA) organised the ad-hoc expert group meeting.
The purpose of the AEGM was to discuss land issues and economic transformation through a review of the findings and recommendations of a study on “Land, Identity and Socio-economic Transformation in Southern Africa” commissioned by SRO-SA.
The meeting was attended by over 35 land and agricultural development experts from the private sector, governments, development partners, academia, civil society and the media.
MARGARET CHISANGA, Lusaka