Author: William Chilufya
Chongwe is a semi-rural district next to Zambia’s capital city Lusaka. It is one of the two largest suppliers of fresh vegetables to Lusaka.
Our vision for the Chongwe Food System Lab is that in 10 years, the farmers in Chongwe venture into sustainable vegetable production which means that more safe (chemical free), diverse, nutritious and healthy vegetables will be grown, sold and consumed.
Concerns over climate change and the use of agrochemicals
At a time of launching Chongwe FSL, acting District Agriculture Coordinator (DACO) for Chongwe, Mr Chintu Chintu, expressed gratitude that the HealthyFoodAfrica had chosen to do the project in Chongwe as food production in the area is threatened by climate change and high use of agrochemicals, which harm the health of consumers, workers’ and the environment.
He explained that ”there has been increased use of chemicals in growing crops such as maize and tomatoes….these chemicals are usually expensive and also poisonous”. He mentioned that farmers tend not to follow instructions on chemical use and disposal, and expose themselves and their families to health risks without knowing it.
Chongwe vegetable farmers buy agrochemicals from agro dealers. According to an agro-chemical research undertaken by Hivos and ZAAB (likely to be publicly launched in March 2021) agro dealers in Chongwe had limited knowledge of the chemicals. It was found in Chongwe for example, that the sales person employed by the dealer was handling all the chemical containers in the shop with bare hands.
Mr Chintu further revealed that climate change has led to the drying up of the Chongwe River, with people and animals forced to rely on stagnant ponds left on the dry river bed. He bemoaned the lack of water harvesting techniques among local farmers.
Challenges of farmers recognised
In a meeting with the farmers participating in our Food System Lab work, it was noted that marketing of crops is a challenge for farmers. Chongwe farmers often make losses from their vegetable production because of high cost of inputs, transportation costs to Lusaka, local authority levies and the fees of middlemen involved in the delivery chain to Lusaka.
Farmers bemoaned the lack of food processing technologies at a household or farm level because most products from smallholder farmers in Chongwe sell raw products with no/little value addition.
The transport network in Lusaka city region includes many roads that become impassable during rainy season. Poor packaging, transportation and storage facilities means considerable losses and waste due to damages at every step of the value chain from on farm all the way to at markets in Lusaka.
Engagement with variety of actors
To tackle the complex challenges in Chongwe Food System Lab, and to make our vision come true, we are engaging a variety of local food system actors into our work:
Farmers – we have about 30 mostly vegetable farmers that are participating in activity implementation.
Civil Society organisations are already part of our Food System Lab and they are key in lobbying the government for policies that support the production of healthy, nutritious and diverse vegetables.
Government (Ministry of Agriculture, Community Development and Health) actors are already involved in our Food System Lab activities and actively participating meetings. These actors are responsible for implementing government activities at the community level. And most importantly they provide extension services.
Private sector – i.e. agro-dealers selling seeds/seedlings and agro chemicals and transporters. They have been invited to be part of our Food System Lab activities.
Innovations for pest management
One of the innovations we plan to realize in Chongwe, is to scale up pest management and control without poisonous agro-chemicals. Chongwe Lab participants are concerned at high use of chemicals although it is often more about the high costs than awareness of the serious risks to health. People are aware that natural pest control methods exist, but technical knowledge on the latest techniques, plus access to the organic inputs is a challenge. Consider how much investment has been put into the marketing and distribution of agro-chemicals, and how little investment into healthier more sustainable alternatives.
The research on the extent of the use of agro-chemicals, and awareness of the risks, is currently being finalized. This is an important piece of evidence that can be used (through the Lab and other fora including local and national media) to raise awareness and stimulate demand for safer alternatives by farmers and consumers, and provide evidence for policies and investment that supports healthy food – farming systems that improve human and environmental health, instead of damaging it.