The picturesque landscape of Katete district, nestled in the southeast corner of Zambia, provides an idyllic backdrop to the trials and triumphs of small-scale farmers in this region. The fertile lands, bordering Mozambique and Zimbabwe, have sustained generations of agricultural pursuits, serving as both a lifeline and a limitation.
Among these farmers, Nathaniel Nyarenda, a widowed father of three, toils diligently on his 94-hectare farm, cultivating a vibrant assortment of maize, soya beans, tobacco, tomatoes, green beans, cabbages, and bananas.
Despite the region’s desirable climate and renowned agricultural potential, Nyarenda, like many other small-scale farmers, grapples with the market constraints posed by the local population of around 200 000 inhabitants.
The cyclical abundance and scarcity of produce, such as tomatoes, often lead to significant wastage. “There are times when a lot of tomatoes go to waste because the population is small,” Nyarenda shared, encapsulating the recurring challenge faced by the region’s farming community.
Notwithstanding these challenges, Nyarenda nurses a grand vision – to evolve his farm into a supplier for major supermarket groups like Choppies and Shoprite, or hotels further afield in the province. This is a vision that he intends to realise not only for himself but also for the farmers he mentors as a part of Solidaridad Network’s leader farmer programme.
Currently, his ambitions hinge on two possibilities. The first is a processing plant, Eastern Tropical Fruit, which is under construction in Katete. Once operational, this plant, a joint venture between the government’s Industrial Development Corporation and Vitaplus Foods Limited, is expected to curb wastage by utilising the farmers’ produce for making sauces, jams, and other products.
However, the plant’s repeated delays in commissioning have added an element of uncertainty. “We hope that the industry, if it will be in operation soon, will help… At present, we have got a big challenge in terms of market,” Nyarenda remarked.
Simultaneously, an alternate path to prosperity is being carved through improved food safety standards – a move championed by the Solidaridad Network. As a leader in the network, Nyarenda has undergone training in the capital, Lusaka, learning the importance of producing with a global focus and bringing back these lessons to his community.
“I need to be a supplier and I also want my fellow followers to be suppliers… I also need my fellow farmers to really understand hygiene,” he stated, expressing his belief in the collective power of improved food safety standards.
However, Mwinga Hamweene, a government extension officer serving 2 700 farmers in the region, opines a more cautious perspective on the immediate impact of improved food safety standards. Given the current market dynamics, where all produce is sold at the same price, investing in safety measures can seem inconvenient to small-scale farmers.
While recognising these challenges, Hamweene, much like Nyarenda, persists in her efforts to educate farmers on the safe use of chemicals and fertilizers. “Sensitisation of people on the importance of having safe food,” she asserts, is the crucial first step towards this goal.
Despite these hurdles, one can’t help but notice the unfaltering determination in Nyarenda’s voice. “Solidaridad has really helped me… They also helped us on using drip irrigation, which I now have at the farm,” he stated, acknowledging the role of the international non-profit organisation in his journey. As he moves forward, establishing new orchards and sharing knowledge on crop rotation, the budding of oranges, and growing onion seedlings, his optimism is infectious. Undeterred by headwinds, he continues to envision a brighter future for himself, his family, and the entire farming community of Katete.