In the heartland of Zambia lies a quaint town known as Chongwe, situated a mere 40 kilometres east of the bustling capital, Lusaka. The farmers here possess an invaluable geographical advantage – easy access to the vibrant Soweto fresh produce market in Lusaka and a steady demand for their produce from neighbouring nations, such as Malawi, DRC, and Mozambique.
A local farmer named Mwalusaka Charles holds a distinctive place amongst his peers. More than just a farmer, he plays the role of mentor for 22 smallholders under the aegis of the Solidaridad Network’s system for agricultural education and training. He illustrates his role, “As a lead farmer, it’s my duty… to teach them what I’ve learned. I must visit their fields when planting… I have to be invited to each and every farmer.”
Not too long ago, Charles was amongst a select group of 20 farmers who attended an intensive week-long food safety training programme in Lusaka, an initiative organised by the Solidaridad Network.
“Last year, around December, we brought in a consultant under Global Gap to train our lead farmers of fruit and vegetables in food safety,” reminisces Friday Siwale, the dynamic program manager of the Solidaridad Network in Zambia.
Covering critical areas such as general hygiene, safe use of pesticides and fertilisers, and the essential nature of produce labelling for traceability, the training also saw the participation of ten government agricultural extension officers.
Armed with new knowledge, the farmers, all leaders within the Solidaridad Network, returned to their localities. They shared their learnings with the local farming communities.
According to Siwale, this initiative has managed to impact over a thousand farmers across the regions of Chongwe, Katete, and Mazabuka.
Emphasising the importance of safe food, Siwale states, “You must eat the food to feed you and not to poison you.” He further elaborates on the network’s pursuit to establish food safety standards in Zambia, a country currently without them. A proposed draft of food safety standards, created in collaboration with various stakeholders, has been presented to the government.
Siwale elaborates, “The whole idea is that if [the proposed standards] pass… it will actually help a lot of farmers.” The lack of standardised food safety measures hampers small-scale farmers from selling to supermarkets. Similarly, it curtails commercial farmers’ potential to export fruit and vegetables.
Despite these challenges, Charles expresses optimism. “We used to have losses – maybe out of 200 boxes of tomatoes, you can just sell 150… Now, because of very good handling and going through training this time, now we are making more profit.”
The effects of the training are already manifesting within his farming community, heralding a brighter future for the farmers of Chongwe.