Faustina Phiri who farms in the Njolwe area near Lusaka, experienced a paradigm shift when she realised that agriculture meant a lot more than planting maize. Faustina was one of a group of retirees who were given land on the former farm of the Dairy Training Institute in the mid 1990s.
“In 1998 my sister and I got some young men to help us clear the bush so that we could plant maize. We didn’t really know what we were doing and couldn’t manage our input costs and other expenditures well.
“We just kept buying fertilizer to try and improve our yields,” says Faustina. “Eventually we realised we were going nowhere. We farmed, but we made no profits.”
DAIRY TO THE RESCUE
The Humanist Institute for Cooperation (Hivos) a Dutch NGO had established a training and empowerment programme to help farmers with a more sustainable and environmentally friendly approach to farming, under the banner of the Green Entrepreneurship project.
The initiative was undertaken in partnership with Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre, the Dairy Association of Zambia, and Micro Bankers Trust.
“The people from Hivos came here and told us about their dairy shceme. They made dairy cows available to us and also loans with which we could finance the animals,” Faustina explains.
But the scheme was aimed at co-ops rather than individuals, so Faustina and five other ladies in the Njolwe area got together to apply for the loan. Ultimately three of the group pushed through and received training in dairy production and management of their co-operative at the Kasisi Training Centre.
“The animals arrived on August 29, my daughter’s birthday. Their numbers were written on small pieces of paper and put in a cup from which each member of the co-op drew and got the corresponding cows,” she adds.
Faustina’s first draw was number 150, a heavy-in-calf cow that calved down two weeks later. “We bought some cans and started delivering milk to Parmalat’s Milk Collection Centre in Lusaka twice a day.”
Today Faustina has seven cows, with four currently in lactation. She employs two permanent labourers who milk and ferry the fresh milk 16km to town by bicycle morning and evening. The other co-op members have also expanded on their initial cow numbers and Parmalat is ready to station a collection point at Njolwe.
In 2016, two years later, Rolf Shenton of the Grassroots Trust, an NGO that promotes holistic farming practices and is endorsed by Hivos, invited Faustina to a training day at Sebastian Scott’s organic farm in Kafue.
“We went there and I thought I was dreaming,” says Faustina. She couldn’t believe that Sebastian could successfully and profitably produce crops without ploughing or spending thousands of Kwacha on fertiliser. “They collect manure to use as fertiliser, so when we came home we immediately started collecting and stockpiling our herd manure.”
Later Sebastian made Faustina aware of the possibilities of multicropping. “I realised that you should farm many different things to make money,” she explains. “We plant about 7ha now; it’s interplanted with maize, beans, ground nuts and brown nuts. In winter we grow vegetables on the same land.”
Her milk income is about K160 a day. Planting maize for silage to overwinter cows, or to pull them through feed shortages, makes better economical sense than selling maize as grain. This season also brought in a good harvest of cow peas.
“I am now a profitable farmer thanks to the people of Hivos and the Grassroots Trust.”
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