By DOROTHY CHISI-
SMALL-scale agriculture is the main activity that supports the rural economy in Zambia.
It is the primary economic activity for the majority of households in rural communities.
The high incidence of rural poverty indicates that there are serious barriers that limit agricultural development, including defunct farmer organisations, limited access to agricultural inputs, constrained access to credit, poor post-harvest management and underdeveloped markets.
Access to agricultural markets by small-scale farmers is essential.
This is because it is translated to more gains by rural farmers who sell their produce at prices that enable them to invest in their own businesses and increase the quantity, quality and diversity of the goods they produce.
Market linkages enable farmers to sell their produce at higher prices.
This in turn encourages farmers to invest in increasing yields.
However, lack of market information, such as price of produce at the markets, quality and quantity of products required leaves rural farmers with the task of negotiating the price at which to sell their produce based on the information provided by traders.
These factors significantly reduce the bargaining power of rural farmers and thus promote development of uncompetitive markets.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is supporting small holder farmers across the country with provision of enhanced access to markets, financial and aggregation services to increase their income and resilience.
WFP feels that aggregation of the farmers needs and data are key factors that can strengthen smallholder farmers in agricultural markets.
Through the Integrated Nutrition and Smallholder Support Project (INSHSP), 10,000 farmers from four districts have benefited form support under the project to uplift their livehoods.
INSHSP Project Manager Vincent Siakwale said training, through demonstration camps, is important for smallholder farmers because it brings the farmers together as a group of producers to speak with one voice and helps them to negotiate for fair prices for their produce.
Mr Siakwale said for farmers to enhance their position, they needto have access to finance for inputs and where such financing is not easily accessible, farmers end up using recycled seeds, they use less fertilizer and rarely use the necessary chemicals to protect their crops.
That prevents them from increasing production.
He said apart from training farmers, the focus of the INSHSP is also on the component of production and post-harvest through market access.
He said so far, farmers in Chasefu/Lundazi, Katete, Petauke and Nyimba districts in Eastern Province have benefitted Chasefu/Lundazi, Katete, Petauke and Nyimba under the project.
“In each of these districts, there are 2,500 farmers, 60 per cent of whom are women. The focus of the project is on the increase of nutrition in communities as well as in accessing support for the smallholder farmers,” MrSiakwale said.
He explained that the focus of fighting malnutrition is through production and smallholder marketing so that those crops that are not available in homes can be accessed on the market.
Tobias Banda, 42, is an aggregator from BulweVillage in Chasefudistrict.
Mr Banda said INSHSP has not only helped him to increase his business for grain purchasing, but it has also connected him to major grain buyers whom he is able to negotiate prices with.
Mr Banda said has drawn many benefits from the training provided by WFP and Development Aid from People to People (DAPP), with support from Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).
He said since starting his aggregation business when he cultivated 400 bags of maize in 2017and could not find buyers, he has grown from strength to strength and is able to help the people in the community to buy their products at affordable prices.
Mr Banda said he started working with WFP, through DAPP, who trained him.
He said he has seen a major change in how he conducts his aggregation business which is no longer the same as it was in the past.
“In the past, I never knew how to use the profits of the money I gained in aggregation. When WFP and DAPP came in, they trained me in how to use my gains from the sales, how to buy grain from farmers as well as customer care, especially that there is competition in the aggregation,” Mr Banda said.
He said he was also trained and given contacts regarding where he could sell his grain at a very good price, which has greatly helped him.
Mr Banda said he also appreciates the technology aspect which has made to know what he can use to sell the grain using the ‘Mano App Market’ which can be installed on a mobile phone.
He said in order to enhance his market, he was also assisted with a sieve, a measuring scale, a tent and a rain gauge.
“Some of the things that I can already say I have acquired so far through this business include a grinding mill, I have managed to build a house and I also bought vehicles that are able to help me with transportation for the grain from the points of sell,”he said.
Anastasia Nyondo, another aggregator in Katete, said she was able to help farmers with seeds and chemicals through her aggregation business.
‘I started with 100 pockets of seeds which I gave out to farmers. As we are now, others have been able to buy oxen, cars and built houses from the proceeds by investing in farming which I have been able to help them with,” she said.
Ms Nyondo said so far, over 5,000 farmers have registered under her firm.
She said she will help the farmers with seed for the 2021/22 farming season.
She encouraged her fellow women to invest in farming because it is profitable and can help them to solve their problems and because agriculture is amajor economic activity for everyone.
Elias Phiri of SambaniVillage in Petauke, who is also an aggregator, thanked the WFP and DAPP for their assistance in training which has helped him to expand his business and made it possible for him to manage his livelihood.
MrPhiri started his aggregation business last year when he grew vegetables and tomatoes using two bags of fertilizer which was provided under the cooperative he belonged to through FISP.
“The training which was offered by WFP hasgreatly helped me because I am able to grow different crops and also buy from framers as well,”Mr Banda said.
The investment in knowledge based agriculture, technological change, education and vocational training is good because it creates positive results.
It is important to train and update the farmers in terms of benefits of maintaining standards and grading of agricultural commodities to face the globalization challenges.