Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What am I doing here?

I think I need to back up a little bit. I am not sure I have adequately explained what I am doing here in Zambia working with CARE international…

So here goes:

First, Engineers Without Borders partners with existing NGO’s on the ground. Thulasy (another EWB volunteer) and myself have been partnered with CARE here in Zambia and we are both working on the Sorghum Project. The official name is Sorghum Marketing Enterprise Project (SMEP), it is in it’s first year but is based on the Scaled Sorghum Commercialisation Project (SSCP – love those acronyms!) that ran from 2005-2007 in the Southern Province. Essentially SMEP is taking the SSCP plan and introducing it in two new areas. This is where Thulasy and I come in; she is working on the expansion in the Southern Province. SSCP worked with the same 2 cooperatives in the Southern Province during the 05/06 and 06/07 agricultural seasons. This year Thulasy is focusing on introducing 2 additional cooperatives to the program, which will double the participation in the Southern Province.

I am working in the Copperbelt Province, where we are introducing the project for the first time to 6 cooperatives.

The project has three main goals:

1 – Increase food security for small scale farmers

2 – Diversify crops

3 – Increase house hold income

These goals are to be achieved by introducing sorghum as an alternative to the main staple food: maize. Sorghum has the added benefit of being a traditional crop, unlike maize, and was grown for consumption by these farmer’s ancestors. Furthermore, sorghum is more draught resistant than maize, which is of added value in the Southern Province where drought is common.

By encouraging farmers to grow sorghum AND maize, they are less vulnerable to external shocks such as draught, pests and market fluctuations. Both sorghum and maize are grains that can be consumed in the same fashion at the house hold level.

To increase income CARE is facilitating access to market by linking farmers cooperatives to sorghum buyers. This has mainly been achieved through a contract with Zambian Breweries, who is using sorghum to make beer. Another method of income generation is sale of sorghum in local markets. CARE has encouraged cooperatives to mill and package the sorghum for retail sale. This has been fairly successful in the last two years in the Southern Province.

CARE is providing free seed to farmers that volunteer to be a part of the project. We are working through existing cooperatives to help with logistics of meeting the farmers, distributing the seed and monitoring progress, but we are not limiting the participants to cooperative members. Fortunately in Zambia there are many, at times overlapping, cooperatives and so it is easy to find and reach farmers through this means.

The vision of this project is to spend 2 years with the selected cooperatives, facilitating the market linkages and agricultural know-how of the farmers and cooperatives in order for them to continue producing and selling sorghum long after CARE has backed out. The cliché term is ‘sustainable development’.

The actual nuts and bolts of the project involve meeting with the farmers or a network of ‘contact farmers’ to explain how sorghum is grown, harvested and sold. Ensuring the seed distribution occurs smoothly and fairly, that the market linkages are made and the cooperatives and farmers gain knowledge in sorghum growing, business and marketing.