For sixty-one-year-old Idah Kombe Simwela, growing produce on a large, let-alone commercial scale, was something previously thought to be unattainable. But with growing support and interventions from private sector players such as Zambian Breweries, she and other women are able to cash in on unassuming crops such as cassava – through cooperatives – in a quest to better their livelihoods and those of their families.
Originally from Kashiba, Idah resides in Shikalaba village in Kawambwa in Luapula Province where she also raised her nine children.
“I belong to a registered women’s group called Twafweniko. Through the cooperative, we were able to start gardens, keep chickens for sale as well as do village banking. This has helped us a lot and we are also able to even give ourselves some loans,” she said.
Idah pointed out the importance of being diligent with one’s ‘hands’ and encouraged more women to get into agriculture. She stated that with the income from it, she and her fellow farmers could lend a hand to their partners and for the widowed to do so even in the absence of a spouse – Idah’s own Mr Simwela passed away in 2018.
Over the years of farming, Idah has come to realise just how much access to reliable information can be a game-changer for farmers like her: “We used to waste a lot of agricultural land by not using it efficiently but now we have been guided on how to prepare ridges better rather than the unnecessarily big ones and wider spacing we used to use.”
She admits that the learning process has been made more accessible and relatable through the on-site trainings carried out under the company’s cassava programme as well as mobile text messages received in her local Bemba dialect.
“Before we plant we are guided on how to prepare and plant the cassava stems. We are met physically for training but also we do receive mobile text messages on how to manage our crop better on our own.”
Compared with the traditional varieties, the improved cassava stem cuttings provided through the programme enables Idah to realise income on the crop sooner as it can be harvested within a year and a few months of planting.
She further noted that: “With cassava, I am able to get returns much quicker. It requires lesser inputs and after the initial preparation the plants pretty much ‘grow’ on their own. We are able to get our money almost instantly when we sell.”
She further appreciates the fact that the market has been brought right to her doorstep.
“It has given us a sense of joy and pride as women of Kawambwa community as we are now also able to make a positive contribution outside where previously our efforts and responsibilities were limited to the confines of the home.”
Zambian Breweries is targeting to have 100% of its direct farmers, from small to commercial scale, to be skilled, connected, and financially empowered by 2025.
The cassava programme aims to boost the production of the crop by harnessing the potential of farmers in rural areas and equipping them with the technical and financial skills required to run a thriving venture at whatever stage they are at. Platforms such as its BanQu automated payment system enable farmers receive prompt payments and keep track of payments.
Since launching the programme in Luapula in 2016 it has expanded to include Northern Province with more than 5,000 farmers reached.
Cassava is the main ingredient in Eagle Larger.