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Certifying seed in Zambia's poorest province

Mulele Mazeko, chairman of the Kamasika Seed Growers Association (Hugh Chaloner)
Mulele Mazeko, chairman of the Kamasika Seed Growers Association
Hugh Chaloner

While the world looks for signs that recession may be coming to an end, for the Kamasika Seed Growers Association of Zambia's Western Province, times are good. "Just last week we concluded a deal to supply 50 tonnes of maize seed for US$4200 to the Progen Seed Company," boasts Association chairman Mulele Mazeko. "We have also sold 8.6 tonnes of sorghum seed to a number of different buyers." For the first time, farmers in Zambia's poorest region are able to buy top quality seed, grown by local seed producers and certified by the province's new, state-run seed-testing laboratory in Mongu town. It is an extraordinary development in an area normally reliant on food aid.

The Kamasika Seed Growers are just one of many groups to benefit from two EU-funded programmes operating in the province. The Right to Seed initiative, implemented by the NGO Self Help Africa, provided the spark for the growers. In 2004, three trainees from a seed multiplication course set up a cooperative to multiply high yielding varieties of maize, sorghum, groundnut and rice. Local NGO partner, Keepers Zambia Foundation, provided further assistance in seed treatment and storage, and the cooperative grew steadily. It now has 100 members in three districts.

But, Mazeko explains, it isn't only the seed producers who are benefitting. "Farmers in this area have never been able to grow enough food to carry them through from one year to the next, and one of the biggest challenges that they have faced is poor quality seed." Now, over 3,300 smallholder farmers in Kaoma district have access to certified cereal seed from outlets such as Kamasika's recently opened seed depot, built with NGO support. A wider range of farming inputs, including seed, is also available from a retail store, opened by the cooperative last year in Kaoma town.

Collective marketing

Monia Mataka farms on two hectares at Mulyata village in Mawilo East district of Zambia's Western Province (Hugh Chaloner)
Monia Mataka farms on two hectares at Mulyata village in Mawilo East district of Zambia's Western Province
Hugh Chaloner

Monia Mataka is typical of those who have benefitted. Last year she was able to sell 250kg of unshelled groundnuts, grown from certified Kamasika seed on her two hectare plot. She earned just US$8 for each 50kg bag she sold, but this, she says, was a far better price than was paid in the past. At 65 years old and a widow, any money is welcome, and her groundnut earnings supplement what she raises from dry season cultivation of vegetables.

Earning the higher price was possible through her membership of a groundnut growers group, established under the EU-funded Market Orientated Rural Enterprise (MORE) programme. In her Mawilo East community, five such 'commodity groups' have been set up, marketing various crops including vegetables, maize and cassava. In Monia's group, over 40 farmers grow groundnuts for markets in Kaoma and Mongu, and overall the MORE programme is working with 2,500 farm households, improving their access to markets and farming inputs, and helping them scale up production through adoption of appropriate technologies.

Certified success

According to Kalike Mwila, Self Help Africa's regional co-ordinator, such a programme aims to tackle some of the biggest development challenges faced by rural communities in Western Province, where many households are dependent on food aid for at least part of the year. "Zambia is the 11th poorest country in the world and the Western Province is by far the poorest region," he explains. "It is a 600km drive by road to the capital Lusaka, and because of that it has not developed at the pace that has been seen elsewhere."

The DFID-funded seed testing laboratory in Mongu is improving farmers' access to high quality seed (Hugh Chaloner)
The DFID-funded seed testing laboratory in Mongu is improving farmers' access to high quality seed
Hugh Chaloner

That remoteness has also led to the building of Mongu's seed testing laboratory, opened in 2008 with funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID). "Until this centre was built, seed producers needed to get their stock by road to Lusaka if they wanted to get it tested and certified," Mwila explains. "Many of them neither had the time nor the resources to do this, so made do with lower yielding, poor quality hybrid seed instead."

Creating a viable seed industry in a remote, impoverished part of Zambia has demanded significant investment, and the involvement of local and international NGOs and donors as well as the state authorities. However, the results so far are encouraging, and Mulele Mazeko is optimistic about the future of the Kamasika growers. "Our turn-over last year was US$24,000, and will grow to over US$30,000 in 2009," he claims, a growth rate that any business would be proud of in the current financial climate.

Written by: George Jacob

Date published: September 2009


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