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Aileen McCallan in Zambia – Post 6

Aileen McCallan is in Zambia to produce a documentary on food security for the Simon Cumbers Media Fund. This is the sixth of her many posts which are also available on Aileen’s own blog site: Aileen in Zambia.

1st October 2010

Visiting some small scale farmers

As I approach one of the many villages in the Chisamba district, make shift market stalls, fashioned by sticks and bags, line both sides of the road. It is a lazy Saturday afternoon. The sun is beating down and I am finding the bright glare of the sun testing on my eyes. There is a hubbub of activity and conversations but the stalls are not busy.

Walking through the village, men stare, woman look indifferent and children are curious. Some of them play with home made trucks made from sticks and bits of plastic.Woman sit behind the stalls on boxes and crates nursing their babies.

The women in this stall show off their babies. All of the babies are just two or three months old.They work right up until they give birth and immediately after the baby is born.  The little babies are well covered up and all seem very happy and content. The women laugh and take delight at me admiring their children. When I ask if they have any more children they inform me they have twelve children between them. They work on small farms and sell commodities to get by.

One young woman (not photographed) tells me how her parents insisted that she got married at fourteen years. She got married and almost immediately had a baby. Shortly after, her husband left and now, at nineteen, she is trying to fend for herself and her baby. She seeks help from relatives but quite often has to find other business to get money to survive. ‘Other business’ includes selling commodities and prostitution.

Her story is not uncommon in Zambia as many parents who have not been educated themselves often see marriage as a way to receive a small payment and someone else to fend for their daughter. They often see a baby as a ‘gift from God’ without seeing the challenges of a young person raising a child in very difficult circumstances.

However it has to be said that even though I perceive their circumstances as difficult, it is not necessarily how they perceive it.  In fact for many, especially those who are uneducated, it is a way of life. Just by chatting to the villagers I am learning a lot from the way they shrug their shoulders and smile. They are resolved to accepting their lot. This is the way life is mainly due to lack of education and opportunity.  Furthermore, their hopelessness is compounded by a number of social issues such as, poverty, unemployment, teenage pregnancy, stealing, corruption, illicit sex, HIV/AIDS, wife beating and drinking.

Loud music booms out from a pub in the middle of the village and the tin roofed building seems to be over populated with men standing around the entrance or sitting on the walls and ground drinking. Drink is a big social problem here and affects every aspect of family life including keeping down a job. Quite often it is the woman here who carry the burden of raising their family and finds ways to do ‘business’ to provide for their children.

As I wander through the village children and teenagers follow me. Some of them are eager to talk with me and want to check out my mobile and Marantz recorder. I record their voices and take some photographs that I can show them. They throw back their heads and laugh out loud when they see the photograph. They talk about there school. When I ask them how old they are they go silent or offer a few numbers leaving me guessing. It is difficult to work out their ages as many of them suffer from stunted grow and malnutrition.

When I arrive at Alex’s home he welcomes me and introduces me to some of his children. Alex owns a small  farm which includes dairy, traditional animals an some crops.  At present he is in the process of setting up a chicken run. He is trying to raise the capital to stock it so he can increase his earning by selling chickens. To raise the extra revenue, his ox ferries maize and other commodities for other farmers. While we are walking round his farm Alex shares with me the challenges of being a small scale farmer and how they could be solved.


“Though we have got the co operative societies it is not everyone who benefits. In fact very few people benefit.We are told that we have to add on to the contribution from the government but most small scale farmers have difficultly raising the revenue and the money required to by commodities so in terms of the expected yields from the farmer most of the time you don’t meet your target. We also have problems with animal disease such as foot and mouth. We have traditional animals and small farm crops but the inputs are not enough to sustain us here.”

One of Alex’s main concerns is providing for his family and ensuring his children are educated.

“I am trying to expand and carry out such projects to be able to meet the school fees and look after my family and dependents. I am providing for a family of seven and seven dependents. Relatives passed away and we are looking after their children and trying to meet their educational needs. We have a lot of children in boarding school and that is my main concern how to raise the fees.  Once they are educated and employed they will be able to look after themselves to give them opportunities to help them see what is better for them in life..”

When I ask Alex about the economy he believes things are changing but very slow progress is being made.

“People are talking and people need to talk. A lot of aid has come into the country and people are benefiting but there is still a lot of poverty. I do believe with the right government and leadership our people and the economy will be empowered. If they want to see Zambia grow the small scale farmer needs assistance and they must embrace the idea of helping us graduate from the level we are at to where we can fend for themselves because, right now, we are just crawling.”

Later I visit Benett, another small scale farmer. When I arrive at his home the children run to find him. He is watching football with his friends. I wait for him under a tree with a number of his dependents and children. I try my hand at a little baby sitting. Everything goes well until the baby turns round and looks at me. I try to distract her with my driver’s car keys but to no avail. She just wants back to a familiar face again.

When Bennet comes, he greets me and talks easy about his work as a small scale farmer.  Mostly he echos the problems that Alex has already outlined such as the difficulty of getting loans to improve and increase their productivity. He also echos Alex’s aspiration, to make enough money so he can support his family and educate his children.

On a lighter note he talks about his love for football and the Chelsea football team. He tells me that Chelsea was losing when the children had called him.  It is clear to me that he is itching to get back, to check out the score, so I finish up the interview, wish him well and tell him that I hope his favourite team, Chelsea, wins.

Please Note: The views and opinions expressed in blogs under the Simon Cumbers Media Fund are those of the journalist and / or their interviewees. They do not necessarily reflect the views of Irish Aid, the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Irish Government.