Only a wire fence between two worlds, two cultures

     Chewing a handful of soybeans, I watch the modern John Deere STS9670 combine chew its way down the field. To one side is the slim silver outline of the idle irrigation pivot, behind it the dark outline of the Mkushi hills (or mountains as they call them here). Robert’s riding along with Ken, Rassie Du Toit’s combine operator. The soybean and maize harvest is in full swing in the commercial farmer’s block of Mkushi, Zambia.

Ken calls his boss about a problem with the sieves on the computerized combine.

Ken calls his boss about a problem with the sieves on the computerized combine.

    Yesterday Robert and I were conducting a business workshop in a humble church an hour down the road. Robert discussed production problems while I led the budgeting and planning discussions. The dirt floor was swept clean, under a partially covered roof of rafters made of large branches tied together with wire. The group of small farmers sat on rough hewn logs placed on heavy forked branches pounded into the floor.

A humble church is just as effective a venue for teaching as a sophisticated conference hall. Learning happens everywhere.

A humble church is just as effective a venue for teaching as a sophisticated conference hall. Learning happens everywhere.

     The two worlds aren’t just an hour apart – they’re often only a fence apart. Sometimes, especially when we visit big farmers like Rassie, I wonder about the effectiveness of what we are doing when working with the hoe farmers. It seems they’ll never ever get even a foot hold into Rassie’s world. 

     But when I see their concentrated faces, hear their animated discussions as they plan a budget for the next crop I feel rewarded.  Chongo tells me that after our workshop his wife said to him, “That was powerful. Now I understand why you want me to reinvest the money from our crops.”  Then I know we are making at least a small difference in the lives of these small farmers.

     The farming project we support in the Mpongwe district has spread to an affiliated church group in Serenje, some hours away. Usually the main social structure of a rural community,  many NGOs use churches to disseminate information about health problems (such as AIDS awareness), and other community development issues.

     A few days ago we facilitated meetings in Mpongwe. Pastor David said, “When it comes to money most of our people are like infants still crawling on the floor.” It is a fact all of us involved (the African leaders and we Canadians) didn’t give enough attention to. So we are working harder to train people to budget and plan their farming business, and also their own personal business. Pastor Jessy tells us because of that people are now able to plan so they still have maize to eat before the next harvest. That alone is a major accomplishment.

Small scale farmers from the Serenge area work together to make a budget for a field of maize.

Small scale farmers from the Serenge area work together to make a budget for a field of maize.

     But the last question we discussed yesterday is the hardest one. After you’ve sold your harvest, how do you protect your capital until it’s time to buy inputs again? The problem is a cultural one. When a friend or relative comes to you with a need, it is your responsibility to help if you are able. That’s where the capital often goes to, and the business dies. This is a question the Zambians must answer themselves. And it’s not an easy one!

 

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