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Zambia: First Lady Joins Women in Agricultural Production

02 March 2011, Miriam Zimba - Zambia Post
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Empirical evidence indicates that rural women are the backbone of subsistence agriculture. This assertion is clear in the hinterland where women practically contribute more than 50 percent to food production and hence their key role in fending for their families. Thus it is apparent that given added impetus in terms of input assistance, women could be a reliable human resource factor in agriculture. In this context, First Lady Thandiwe Banda is the latest innovation for Zambian women in agricultural production. She has been promoting conservation agriculture (CA) in rural areas throughout the country, through the distribution of bicycles to lead farmers engaged in conservation farming. This is to enable the farmers, many of them women to reach out to ensure that more women get involved in agricultural development. Out of a total of 32,973 registered farmers, 5,240 are happy recruits as conservation agriculture lead farmers out of whom 1,675 are female; this is a cause that the first lady is promoting. This was evident during her recent visit to Mumbwa district where she handed over 672 bicycles donated to lead farmers by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) at what was described as a wonderful ceremony in Mumbwa district.

Mumbwa District has a total of 35 agriculture camps of which 24 are practicing conservation agriculture supported by the Royal Norwegian government and the European Union.
Mrs Banda has remained hopeful that the Government through the Ministry of Agriculture and its cooperating partners would allocate more resources to ensure the continuation and expansion of conservation agriculture to other parts of the country. "I hope the Government and our partners will put in more resources to ensure a continuation and expansion of the programme to other areas," Mrs Banda noted. In her quest to promote CA and the development of rural women through empowerment programmes, Mrs Banda has visited Kaoma, Mumbwa, Mansa, Samfya, Chipata, Mazabuka, Kapiri Mposhi, Mafinga to mention a few. Most recently, Mrs Banda was in the newly declared district of Mafinga, which is about 100km east of Isoka district, where she handed over 380 bicycles to lead farmers engaged in CA. In Mafinga, Mrs Banda called on more women to get involved in CA, as it was key to the development of rural areas through women's contribution to sustainable agriculture and food security. Mrs Banda was elated that the women folk were also co-opted into the new farming innovations. When she addressed scores of people who trekked long distances to witness the colourful handover ceremony of bicycles, she explained that traditional farming systems had resulted in soil degradation and consequently poor crop yields.
The first lady reiterated that the simple principles of CA which entail minimal soil disturbance, permanent protection of soil mulch and crop rotation could easily address the negative effects of traditional farming methods.

She encouraged farmers in Mafinga to adopt technologies that were best suited for the soils and climate of their area. Mrs Banda was elaborate when she explained that the only answer to overcome the challenges faced by most rural farmers was the promotion of adaptive research in CA, through the Ministry of Agriculture and other partners involved in the up-scaling of CA. She appealed to researchers to introduce equipment that will help reduce tillage, time and labour needed for land preparation used in manual labour-based systems, which would be more beneficial to women and children who were left to toil on the farms. She also appealed to policy makers to help relieve the small scale farmers from their reliance on the hand hoe as their main tool for cultivation. "The formulation of policies will encourage local entrepreneurs in the sector to manufacture and maintain the equipment," she said.

On the involvement of local agro dealers, Mrs Banda said it is important for farmer groups in Zambia to acquaint themselves with the latest agro technological advancements. She said good government policies, coupled with support from partners such as the EU and the FAO, and good rainfall patterns will guarantee a bumper harvest in the 2010-2011 farming season. Because of the realisation that no meaningful development can be achieved with the involvement of traditional leaders, Mrs Banda in her promotion of CA in 16 districts across the country did not leave out the traditional leadership. In each of the districts she visited, the first lady paid courtesy calls on traditional leaders to explain to them the importance of their subjects' moving from the traditional farming practices to CA. Traditional leaders could play an active role in advocating for and promoting conservation agriculture which is sustainable and the government has been propagating through the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MACO) as it reduces over dependency on fertilisers. It is said that one good turn deserves another and surely Zambia's first lady's passion for the development of rural women deserves due commendation.

Time and again Africa has been called upon to invest more in research and mitigate the effects of climate change by the use of technologies like conservation agricultural farming.
Regional projects such as the promotion of CA across the African continent are aligned to the global focus of Millennium Development Goals (MDG's) one and seven which are focused on the development priorities of hunger reduction, poverty eradication, food security and sustainable management of the environment. In this vein, CA could enhance small scale farming without exerting stress on government support programmes such as the Fertiliser Input Support Programme (FISP) to cater for the entire farming community in Zambia. In its quest to improve on household and national food security, the Zambian Government has embarked on the promotion of conservation farming projects especially among small scale farmers. There is need for more investment in women involved in agricultural activities because of the efforts they put in to work towards poverty reduction by adding value to agro produce such as production of cooking oil and peanut butter, and many other products.

Women in Africa are the backbone of agriculture but sadly have been sidelined and overlooked. Women in Agriculture chairperson Cecilia Makota of Lusaka's Kabwata Township explains that certain cultural practices that tend to favour men, giving them an upper hand in making decisions on agriculture practices were responsible for the negative attitudes to the development of agriculture in rural areas. In commending the First lady's involvement in CA, Mrs Makota called on Mrs Banda to continue to embrace rural women engaged in CA. "Women farmers in rural areas are calling for investment in agricultural activities, because women are able to work towards poverty reduction through the addition of value to their agriculture produce such as cooking the production of cooking oil from sunflower and peanut butter from groundnuts," she explains. However, this calls for rural electrification programme to be expedited to enable the women in these areas increase their productivity with minimal effort if they are to make their products more competitive for both local and export markets. At lest 80 per cent of the country's rural population depends on agriculture related activities for their livelihoods. This sector is therefore critical for the attainment of the long term vision for Zambia to become a middle income country by 2015.

Agriculture remains the priority sector in achieving sustainable growth and reducing poverty in Zambia . The First Lady's efforts in promoting the well being of rural farmers should not only be supported, but also emulated to ensure sustainability of small scale farming in Zambia. The Conservation Agriculture Scaling Up for increased Production and Productivity (CASPP) programme whose implementation began in 2009 has been overwhelming with over 180,000 small scale farmers practicing CA. It is expected that by the year 2015, 600,000 small scale farmers will be practising CA. Thirty per cent of this target has already been achieved within the first two years of its implementation. This has been made possible through the support of development and cooperating partners. As the world heads towards the commemoration of the International Women's Day on March 8, it is important to reflect on the contribution made towards the development of women. Undoubtedly, one such woman is Mrs Banda, who has traveled to far flung areas of this country to encourage women to venture in to conservation farming.

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