Matteo Zulu points out over his fields. They don’t look like much now, still dry and barren from the cold season, but come the rains these fields will flood and become ideal for growing four acres of the best rice you’ve ever tasted. Matteo is a walking profile of success in the Community Markets for Conservation program - COMACO.
It’s a hard life for farmers like Matteo here in Chipata, in the eastern province of Zambia. Without expensive fertilizers the yields of maize, the traditional food crop, are often low. When a farmer does manage to produce enough of a crop surplus to sell some, the prices are invariably low.
Zambia’s eastern province lies along the Luangwa River Valley, a region rich in wild game – elephants, zebra, impalas, hippos. If you’re a poor farmer with a family to feed, you do what you have to. Over the years many farmers have turned to poaching just to survive.
In 2003 the Zambian Wildlife Conservation Society came up with an innovative idea to fight poaching by helping farmers achieve food and income security: COMACO. The program teaches farmers conservation agriculture techniques for improving yields. Through an effective business model, COMACO buys produce from farmers at a fair price and sells them low-cost inputs such as seeds and organic fertilizer. With higher yields and better prices, farmers no only no longer need to poach to survive, they are actually able to grow and prosper as Matteo Zulu has done.
Matteo lived in a small mud-and thatch house and owned a small farm. He produced small quantities of maize and ground nuts and cultivated one single acre of rice for sale for which he would receive 600 Kwacha (about 18 cents Canadian) per kilo.
When Matteo joined the COMACO program the price he received for his rice doubled to 1200 Kwacha per kilo. With these new profits he was immediately able to increase his rice cultivation from one acre to four. His income has grown from there, and he is putting the money to good use.
Matteo now owns his own milling equipment to grind maize. His farm includes a flock of chickens which provide both additional income and protein for the family. He has built a new, bigger house on his farm and he runs a small general goods shop out of part of it. Matteo has even managed to save enough money to buy a second-hand pickup truck to transport his goods, and he is investing in real estate, building a house in the town of Chipata.
The growing is not done yet, either. If he can find a way to deal with predators and disease, Matteo hopes to expand his flock of chickens to 2000 birds. With that he figures he could supply all the local villages with meat and eggs. He also wants to expand his rice fields. That growth is only limited by the fact he still must till his fields by hand – a long and labour-intensive process. His eyes light up when a CARE worker tells him about simple motorized hand tractors available in Lusaka. With one of those he could greatly expand his production. Matteo immediately begins calculating how long it would take to save up enough to buy one.
All across eastern Zambia farmers like Matteo are discovering sustainability through COMACO. That is why CARE has joined the program as a partner and is helping to expand it into new regions of the country.
You can help create more success stories like Matteo Zulu by donating to CARE. You’ll be helping protect Zambia’s wonderous wildlife and giving farmers a helping hand towards long-term self-sufficiency. It’s a real win-win proposition.«All Stories and Blogs