Milling Plants: The story of Mawaya

CONDITIONS of living for residents of Mawaya village in Kawambwa district are becoming favourable following the installation of eighteen solar milling plants funded by Chinese government.
Of the total 22 plants, four more are expected to be installed soon.
This has reinvigorated residents to increase production thereby, ensuring reliable access to sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food.
Until the installation, Mawaya residents especially, women and children covered distances – some over 10 kilometres – to neighbouring villages to mill their maize.
This development in the village no longer holds back residents’ joy. Ms Lindiwe Mukosha is one of the residents voicing out her feelings about the milling plants.
“I would like to commend Government for the solar milling plant initiative. It has changed my family’s welfare. Many other farmers too are living better now than before,” Ms Mukosha says.
The life of Ms Mukosha, a mother of six, has changed. She is able to pay for her children’s school and at the same time provide the family needs. She harvests over 100 bags of maize, which are sold to Mawaya Co-operative Society located less than five kilometres from her house in Chief Chama’s area.
“I also mill part of my maize into mealie meal and later sell to local people in my area,” Ms Mukosha says. She also collects the bran, a by-product in the milling process to use as feedstock for the chickens.
The money generated from the sales of maize and mealie meal is used to meet her household needs including paying her children’s school fees.
Kawambwa district was allocated 22 solar milling plants out of which 18 are installed and are now operational.
Mawaya Cooperative Society is one of the most active groups in Kawambwa district with about 500 members.
The group has raised about K59, 000 from milling of maize and is planning to open up a co-operative society shop at Kawambwa Boma where mealie-meal will be sold cheaply and close to people.
Kawambwa District commissioner Ivo Mpasa notes that installation of the solar-powered-plants is making mealie meal cheaper and easy to find in the district, unlike in the past.
“The co-operatives are helping farmers in various ways, including sharing of ideas in agricultural-related issues. When members of the group meet, they usually discuss different issues aimed at uplifting their group and individuals,” Mr Mpasa says.
With time, Mr Mpasa says the co-operatives will take up the buying of maize from local farmers, as opposed to the current situation of selling maize to Food Reserve Agency (FRA).
The Presidential Milling Initiative
The idea behind the Presidential Solar Milling Plant is aimed at addressing the increase in price of mealie-meal.
The rise in maize price did not conform to the law of demand and supply which detects that ‘when there is plenty of a commodity on the market, the price of that commodity automatically will go down’.
Zambia Co-operative Federation (ZCF), which is handling the installation of the milling plants, concludes that the concentration of milling industries are located opposite of what they should be.
ZCF director James Chirwa says the milling plants are concentrated in the city, resulting in the movement of raw materials from rural areas about 900 km to the milling plants in the city to produce mealie-meal.
The mealie-meal is later transported back to rural areas resulting in additional costs. From this scenario, there was a need to relocate the milling industries and target the maize producer districts in rural areas.
The initiative is considered one of the best ideas in addressing all the sustainability elements of job creation, social upliftment, food security, revenue creation, environmental protection and use of alternative energy sources.
Furthermore, a study undertaken by ZCF in 2014 on the country’s maize production revealed that only 20 districts produce maize economically.
It is from this background; ZCF was inspired and went on a journey to install solar milling plants in the 20 districts to start producing mealie for rural communities and export excess to cities.
The objective of the Presidential initiative is to position the milling plants closer to the raw materials (maize) commonly found in rural areas.
The initiative is also aimed at providing market for small-scale farmers as most farmers’ live in far-flung areas and find difficulties to move their maize to FRA depots.
The plants are also meant to assist farmers in adding value to the maize through milling it into mealie meal, which can later be sold to generate income at household level as is the case for Ms Mukosha.
Mr Chirwa explains that the introduction of the solar-powered milling plants is meant to ensure food security.
ZCF is installing a total of 2,000 milling plants. To date, 950 plants have been installed in the selected districts countrywide.
The solar-powered milling plants were procured under a loan from the China Development Bank.
“We have set a pace for rural industrialisation by bringing mini industries in rural areas, setting a stage for industries to be positioned in rural areas,” Mr Chirwa reveals.
It has been ZCF’s desire to see rural industrialisation call comes true; and through the Presidential initiative, the federation hopes to see other industries coming up in rural areas.
This is because rural areas have been made attractive by way of connectivity through various investments in terms of good road network being constructed through different projects such as the Link Zambia 8,000, hospitals and schools.
According to Mr Chirwa, the social infrastructures are an integral part of development. So, when these infrastructures start coming up in the rural areas, it should become attractive.
Mr Chirwa says people no longer need to walk long distances as before because milling plants are within the radius of five to 10 km apart.
“Just to have a milling plant industry in the middle of nowhere has changed the lives of the people within the catchment of the milling plant,” he adds.
While the Mawaya Cooperative Society is changing the lives of the people in Kawambwa like that of Ms Mukosha, the Chinkuli Multi Co-operative in Chongwe district is equally making inroads in the agriculture sector through the provision of mealie meal to different institutions.
The cooperative society, which has a membership of 600 farmers, has a contract with Chalimbana University to supply mealie meal at reduced price.
Co-operative chairperson Peter Miti says farmers belonging to the cooperative are able to have their maize milled for free.
“Many farmers in the district have seen the benefit of the cooperatives; many more are expressing interest to join,” Mr Miti says.
The co-operative buys maize from farmers and mills it into breakfast and roller mealie-meal, which is supplied to Chalimbana and other schools in the district.
In addition, the cooperative was given a grant by World Bank which was used to buy a tractor and chickens the cooperative keeps. The tractor is rented out to farmers and the proceeds are invested back into the cooperative. Members are also able to rent the tractor at a minimal fee.
For Chongwe District, 18 solar milling plants were allocated for the area and all been installed and are operational, Commissioner Frazier Musonda notes.
The price of mealie-meal in the districts where these milling plants are, is far much less than that coming from the conventional mills. The price from the solar milling plants is at K50 while those from conventional mills are sold between K80 and K90.
While benefits are visible with people’s lives being transformed and household food security guaranteed, ZCF is still grappling with some people’s lack of appreciation to the introduction of the milling plants.
Some farmers still do not look at the initiative as a business to develop themselves; they see it as a social occupation.
In spite of the existence of the cooperatives in most districts, some farmers still insist selling their maize to the FRA.
They do not see the presence of the solar-powered plants as a market; they think the inputs such as maize should come from Lusaka to feed the mills in rural areas and yet it is meant to promote agricultural activities within their respective areas.
ZCF is still optimistic that the initiative will meet its intended target although some farmers have not fully understood the concept behind it.
Similarly, Chinese Ambassador to Zambia says his country is committed to its partnership with Zambia for mutual benefit of the two countries.
Since the Forum on China- Africa Cooperation held in South Africa in 2015, several infrastructural developments have taken place in Zambia through the support of China.
The China-Africa friendship is contributing to food security in many African countries, and Zambia being one of the countries benefiting in the milling plants and other projects.

This work was produced as a result of a grant provided by the Africa-China Reporting project managed by the journalism department of the university of the Witwatersrand.

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