Mahlati Moyo of the Mongu District Farmers' Association, Zambia
From the Mongu District Farmers' Association in the Western Province of Zambia, Mahlati Moyo shares his views on getting the voices of smallscale farmers heard. As Chairman of the Association, he feels strongly that farmers should be consulted every step of the way when it comes to changing or formulating agricultural policy - and the media should be used as a lobbying tool.
As smallscale farmers, we are not recognised - only the commercial farmers are recognised. And, as Western Province is the poorest province in Zambia, we say no - this should not be allowed. We are trying to lift our members and our province out of poverty. My job is to monitor action and progress in the Western Province of Zambia: all seven districts.
As farmers we don't change policy but farmer representatives should be involved in making decisions, and the government should consult us, so we speak to provincial ministers. It is our duty to lobby and we shall continue to do this because we cannot rely only on extension officers to convey our messages or for receiving information. We invite the Agricultural Co-ordinator of a District to sit with us and discuss how to move forward. As a Farmer's Association we have to set the ball rolling.
I think the first constraint for us smallscale farmers in the rural areas is the poor road infrastructure connecting us to the market place. The second is government policy concerning the price of commodities; prices fluctuate and we do not get consistent prices for our commodities. But the price of inputs remains high so we need to make sure we get a fair deal by raising our concerns. This works: the government gave us a 60 per cent reduction in fertiliser prices by introducing a subsidy when we raised this issue.
But we are not forgetting that there are some people who cannot afford even that. What about the poorest of the poor people - they need support. I am a villager myself. I know that as part of the Zambian National Farmers Union, lobbying for support from the government and the donor agencies is important. The best way to target the poorest of the poor at the grassroots level is to involve them in discussions.
We are calling for a change in agricultural policy, especially where funding is concerned. I am advocating that support should be specific to times of the year, and the seasons in any given place. For example in the Western Province of Zambia, we need agricultural inputs as early as June - but at present they may be distributed as late as November.
Resources should be mobilised when we need them - especially for training. The extension services are not adequate, and there are staff shortages. Our farmers need the training and sensitisation, but who is to train them? How is an organisation like Mongu District Farmers' Association going to get a vehicle to travel to all of the areas in the province?
We are Leading Contact farmers, but we know that there are things we cannot teach - we need to learn as well. At the end of the day we carry out this lobbying strategy to seek support for the Western Province so that we can continue producing food all the year round. At Mongu District Farmers' Association, we get our voices heard because we make sure that we involve the media: we are in the newspapers, on the radio, on television. In these ways, we believe our voices will be heard at national level.
Date published: March 2008
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