About 45 Km east of the Zambian capital, Lusaka, is the rural district of Chongwe where the main source of income for the over 138,000 inhabitants is agricultural activity.
Due to its proximity to the city, the area is a prime source of firewood used as an energy source by many Lusaka dwellers. As the city has grown, so has the demand for food. This has also meant that even more forests are cleared to make way for farmland to grow crops.
These factors have led to rapid deforestation in the area. The situation is no better throughout the rest of the country. According to SNV Netherlands,deforestation rates in Zambia are quoted at 300 000 hectares per year.
In addition to this, there is further strain on the environment as famers rely heavily on chemical fertilisers which degrade the soil, meaning even more fertiliser is needed over time. This is compounded by changing rainfall patterns, where dry spells which occur with alarming regularity reduce yields, making farming even less sustainable as an economic activity and leading the government to encourage farmers to try new crops.
Enter a new programme, being piloted in Chongwe and supported by Hivos,that will see farmers being trained on sustainable methods of farming.
Soneni Ncube, Green Entrepreneurship Programme Officer for Hivos in Southern Africa, is confident that the initiative would help in many ways. “We think firstly it will help the farmers realise more income by reducing their energy costs and increasing yields,” she said. “We also forsee greater sustainability where even on a small plot of land farmers can not only feed their families year after year, but also supply markets and grow their yields as they become better at implementing the new methods.”
The Chongwe Green Village Project is being carried out in partnership with the Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (KATC), the Dairy Association of Zambia and the Micro Bankers Trust (MBT). The focus of the project is dairy farming and horticulture. As the project is rolled out to other parts of Zambia after the pilot phase,new focus areas will be identified for different regions of the country.
KATC is the first touch point for farmers in the project as it provides training on organic farming and improved dairy farming methodologies, such as artificial insemination as a way of growing herds.
Farmers are then able to access loans from MBT to buy inputs or dairy cows. These are payable over two year periods.
The Dairy Association supplies the cows and links farmers to markets so that they do not struggle to sell their produce.
An initial 400 households are targeted for the pilot phase which will run until September 2015. “We then plan to upscale the project to cover the whole Chongwe district and other parts of Zambia,” said Ncube.
A big focus of the project is clean and renewable energy and biogas is an integral part of the integrated farming solution that the Green Village project is pushing. Other elements of the model include use of solar energy, agro forestry, agro processing and organic farming.
The biggest challenge for the programme though, is to change the perception that the ‘tried and tested’ way is the only way. “The project is about instilling green ways of doing business, and this entails changing mindsets,” said Ncube.