Why support is needed

Starvation in the world

Every day 20,000 people in the world starve to death. This figure does not include the similar number of people who die as a result of disease, conflict and other poverty related causes.

Starvation in Zambia

In 2009 Zambia was ranked having the second worst life expectancy in the world.

According to the USAID Country Development Cooperation Strategy 2011-15, rural poverty in Zambia is approximately 80%, with 68% of the population living below the national poverty line. It is not the case that if you are poor the State will look after you – there is practically no welfare system. There are also very few jobs and many people have no access to credit. Many Zambians simply have no money. They depend on the food that they grow for their survival. To make matters worse many farmers are finding their land is becoming less fertile. Paul Collier in ‘The Bottom Billion’ describes these people as ‘living and dying in fourteenth-century conditions’.

If a household can’t grow enough to feed

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their family throughout the year then they will go hungry. If they hold back seed to plant for next year then their family may have to endure a longer period of hunger. There is currently little incentive to plan ahead.

Many people in Zambia die as a result of poor nutrition or insufficient food and many more endure long and regular periods of hunger. Large numbers of families run out of food during the main planting and harvesting season. This is the time they need food the most and many abandon some of their crops before harvest in order to earn food by working on neighbouring farms.

That being said there is sufficient water, a good climate and plenty of fertile land of which only 15% is cultivated. The land is owned by the state with responsibility for allocation of farmland largely delegated through tribal chiefs to village headmen. Most farming households don’t use all of their land as they don’t have enough resources to farm it all.

Farming in Zambia

Farms in Zambia are generally very different to farms in the UK in just about every respect. The farms that we are talking about are often identical to the African caricature, groups of small round single room huts with mud walls and grass roofs, with no electricity, piped water, sanitation or adequate protection from mosquitoes. Richer farmers have access to oxen to plough their fields but most people cultivate their fields with hand held hoes. There are few animals present other than chickens and the cattle that do exist often feed off the unfenced crops of the poorer villagers.

What went wrong ?

In Zambia it is the ‘improvements’ that are responsible for much of the current problem. Maize was a ‘wonder crop’ that was introduced to Africa from America via Europe and slowly displaced traditional crops. Maize is a highly nutrient hungry species and requires the addition of fertiliser to succeed. In 1964, when Zambia gained its independence, maize was already Zambia’s main crop. The new government then introduced chemical fertilizer subsidies and boosted production further in order to provide the surplus food needed to feed the workers in the copper mines. By doing so they hoped to fuel national economic growth and prosperity. In many villages maize completely replaced traditional crops such as millet and sorghum. Unfortunately the expected national prosperity has not materialised and by the time the subsidies were removed in the 1990s unsustainable and inefficient practices had become common practice and this had led to soil degradation and falling yields.

What is being done ?

In Zambia there is a lot of good work going on. The Government has been promoting Conservation Farming/Agriculture which is a technique that minimises soil disturbance, rotates and mixes crops, retains crop residues and minimises reliance on chemical fertilizers. There are some excellent charities, institutions and NGOs who are already training farming households and helping them make the transition to conservation farming and other more sustainable farming methods.

Why are people still starving ?

Introducing change is very difficult when it requires risk and effort. Many farmers in isolated communities without a tradition of innovation don’t feel confident that they have the power to improve things and they fear making matters worse. To change from farming the way that their parents and grandparents farmed is a big step for them. If they succeed then others become jealous and seek to share in the success and if they fail then their loved ones suffer. They therefore have little incentive to take the risks and make the effort that goes with leading change. They may attend the workshops and get the free starter packs but this is very different from sticking with the new techniques.

How change occurs

Change occurs by investing in people not by investing in structures or systems:

  • Change occurs through individuals
  • Individuals only change when they feel that the reasons for making the change are worth the effort of making it
  • Change is sustained when individuals feel their effort was worthwhile
  • Each person makes their own, very individual, decision to change on the basis of what matters to him or her personally

ZaRP’s role

Many of us have benefited from support at critical times of our lives and often this support has come with no strings attached. To be at its most effective this type of support needs to be personalised and delivered on a one to one basis.

Continuing individual support is needed if Zambian farming households are to make sustained changes to their farming methods in what are perceived to be very risky circumstances. Providing this level of support to large numbers is very time consuming and therefore, if it is provided by paid staff, very expensive. Although the training providers often attempt to provide continuing support or set up local help groups to fill this function it is not realistic to expect this to be fully effective.

This is where ZaRP can help.