Zambia’s economy has experienced considerable growth, but still needs a significant push in the entrepreneurship sector. In response to this, the government has earmarked the agriculture and tourism sectors to boost the economy.
A few organisations are facilitating in farming projects to help mitigate adverse economic conditions. One worth noting is the Mushingashi Conservancy; a project with USD 40 million invested in infrastructure, sustainable community enablement and animal restoration.
Home to serene sunsets along the Kafue river, the Mushingashi Conservancy is part of a plan to transform the location into a premier conservation area. The conservancy is north of Mumbwa and its goal is to empower people from the district through training, and facilitation of responsible land use farming and to preserve endemic animal species. The investment in the project will help create an ecosystem that links the betterment of surrounding communities, conservation and tourism.
The conservancy shares a boundary with the Kafue National Park, which hosts a number of animal species including near-endangered ones. This makes the park a tourist attraction ad though this provides employment prospects for the communities in districts like Mumbwa, their sources of income need to diversify. Subsistence farming affords the people basic needs, but are their agricultural efforts sustainable?
“We feel that for the project to succeed, the local communities need to be uplifted first,” says Damian Newmarch, of the Mushingashi Community Project. “We’re enabling people by holding workshops that teach them not only conservation farming techniques, but income generation through a sustainable model”.
The agricultural aspect of the project was initiated in August 2018 and invited people from the Kaindu area to learn how to use their land more efficiently, as well as how they could make more income. Currently the area has about six groups, with one from Kalenda Hill consisting of 13 families
“This plot’s maize can feed a family of seven for the entire year,” said group member Brenda Muke. She and her brother, Willie are eager to acquire new knowledge that they can put to practical use.
Though the Kalenda Hillside group is learning crop rotation and mulching on a small-scale demo plot, the idea is to apply the group teachings onto their own private plots.
“Once we see success, we’ll expand the training,” says Damian.
Community members predominantly grow maize for sustenance, but the project introduced them to soya beans for crop rotation purposes, as well as for sale. Another emphasised conservation technique in the project is mulching. It uses grass cuttings from cleared fields, and maize stalks from previous harvests to improve nutrient and water retention in the soil; also preventing erosion.
The Mushingashi community project supports the demo plots with inputs such as seed and fertiliser as well as training. Group members can also apply for soya seeds on loan as part of a business development effort to boost cash crops in the area.
A Defence for the Community
The Conservancy is planning to construct a fence around its area for three main benefits. To begin with, for agricultural activities and the aforementioned cash crops to flourish, the fence must be erected to help reduce the human-animal conflict that occurs when crops are ready for harvest.
“Elephants are a big threat to us,” said Adam Mphande, a beneficiary of Mushingashi’s soya seed business development scheme. “We even have to sleep in our fields at night to keep them out.”
The large mammals have been known to walk into people’s maize fields and are a danger to residents of Kaindu. A fence would keep elephants, and other potentially dangerous animals at bay.
Another benefit of the fence is it would significantly inhibit poachers in the area. Unfortunately the very same poachers have been inciting community objection, claiming that the activities of the Conservancy are infringing on people’s freedoms. Clearly this is contrary to the work being carried out by Mushingashi, which provides sustainable skills and revenue that people are earning.
The third benefit to the area is that if animals are protected from poachers and potential killings from conflict with community members, they will serve as a tourist attraction and contribute to the industry’s earnings. In addition, all wildlife acquired to restore the population in the area has been freely given to the state as a part of their contribution to the neighbouring Kafue National Park.
Pests like armyworms can pose a challenge to the community’s crop yields and farmers are reducing this risk through diversification into beekeeping, an added value activity run by Mushingashi. Iran is an active beekeeper, managing five hives like his colleagues working under the project. Though, one of the first to train as a beekeeper in the community was one, Moses Mubambe.
“I started in 2003 [with a Danish development agency],” Moses says. He’s area coordinator in Kaindu and was recruited by Mushingashi to help train those who were interested. Four hundred beehive kits were distributed amongst the community members after their workshops.
Flowering trees are essential in the honey making process, and an aspect of the type of farming taught emphasises the importance of tree conservation, with the two agricultural activities complementing each other. Poor flowering of trees can result in a weak honey harvest, but there remains another hurdle.
“Actually getting money from the honey is the biggest challenge,” Damian emphasises. The honey sold here is unprocessed comb honey, and this fetches a lower price on the market. Mushingashi helps to overcome this by engaging wholesale buyers to purchase the produce.
The small-scale conservation farming is providing income and teaching residents of Kaindu some business acumen. More people in the area have become curious about the project and are gradually joining the cause. In time, the conservation farming and tourism eco-system that the project is developing will sustain and benefit even more community members, and in turn, the country.