Working to eliminate the Hunger Season in Zambia

Representatives from South West Ag Partners were in Zambia in January to evaluate a corn crop planted with the assistance of the Chatham-based company and with the One Seed project organized by Enactus, a students' organization from Lambton College. The project has allowed farmers in Zambia to grow crops with yield potential many times what they're used to.

Farmers from Southwestern Ontario are helping to chase away the Hunger Season.

They’re travelling to Zambia, among the poorest of Africa’s nations, to help farmers there grow more food for their families.

Working in co-operation with Enactus, an international students’ organization with a chapter at Lambton College, and with Chatham-based South West Ag Partners, farmers are helping Zambian growers achieve yields that are much larger than what they’ve seen in the past.

And the improved harvests, say representatives from South West Ag Partners, are improving lives and reducing hunger.

“This project changes people’s lives,” says Jim Hazzard, of South West Ag Partners. “That’s why we’re here with Enactus.”

South West Ag Partners has made a three-year commitment to the One Seed project, which is focused on the village of Zasaka. They’re educating Zambian farmers, distributing seed, fertilizer, spray and tools. Those Zambian farmers who participate with One Seed are given micro loans of $500 to help purchase the materials.

Hazzard says the dramatically improved yields allows farmers to repay their loans and helps capitalize their seed and fertilizer requirements for the next growing season. It also means the farmers can feed their own families.

Mark Lumley, a Sarnia-area farmer who is chair of the Ontario Sugarbeet Growers’ Association, is an enthusiastic participant of One Seed. He described the program to his association’s members at their annual meeting on March 6.

Lumley said in most cases the Zambian farmers, most of whom have only a hectare on which to raise their crops, achieve such poor yields that their harvest isn’t enough to feed their families for an extended period.

“They’re growing corn, but they’re not doing a very good job of it,” Lumley said of the Zambian farmers. “They’re starving.”

He said it’s not unusual for farm families to suffer through a “hunger season” of about two months, usually just before the corn harvest.

“What’s happened is that they’ve just exhausted their storage of corn,” said Lumley. “And if they do have some left, sometimes it has to be sold for medical supplies. And when that happens, they have nothing to eat.”

The answer is higher yields. Typical yields for the farmers at Kasaka were five bushels of corn per acre, but Lumley said after one year of assistance through One Seed, Zambian farmers are harvesting yields that are many times larger.

Hazzard concurs.

“They were often producing five bushels per acre and are now seeing potential yields of 50 and even 100 bushels per acre,” he says.

South West Ag joined the Lambton Enactus project last summer and representatives have since made three trips to Kasaka.

The first trip last August was prior to planting, and was intended to evaluate the landscape.

In November, Hazzard and Barry McFadden of South West Ag, along with Lumley and members of the Lambton Enactus team, made their second trip, this time to educate and train 138 farmers on the program, and to distribute seed, fertilizer, spray and tools.

In January, agronomist Aaron Briemer and marketing representative Mike Eaton, both of South West Ag, travelled to Zambia to evaluate the crop’s progress.

Briemer says most Kasaka farmers are seeing improved germination, higher plant populations and crop growth they’re not accustomed to.

“They’re just so excited and appreciative,” he said of the Zambian farmers.

Hazzard says South West Ag is opening up the project to the rest of the agricultural community, inviting farmers to sponsor one or more Zambian farmers or hectares. Donations are tax deductible and will be channeled through the Lambton College Foundation.

Those wishing to learn more about One Seed can contact Hazzard at [email protected], or Jon Milos at [email protected]

South West Ag representatives plan to visit Kasaka again in April or May.