Originally published on February 18, 2016.
Stella examines grain from her silo, which has ensured that her surplus maize from her increased yields is safely and hygienically stored.
In Kazungula District, the sandy soil and dry heat betray the region’s proximity to the Kalahari Desert. Here, like in many other areas of Zambia’s Southern Province, subsistence farming is the main economic activity. However, the quirks of erratic weather patterns as a result of climate change make the communities vulnerable to drought, floods and other shocks.
Stella Simukali is a subsistence farmer who lives in southern Kazungula District. In mid-2013, she heard about an upcoming project that would help enhance the livelihoods of vulnerable communities in the area. Stella was selected as one of several community representatives to participate in the Sustainable Health and Agriculture for Resilient Populations (SHARP) project.
SHARP is a 23-month project that aims to increase food security, health and disaster-risk reduction in Zambia’s Choma and Kazungula Districts. Implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the project is addressing household food security, improving water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in communities, and strengthening household resilience to disasters.
Around the time of the first meeting, Stella had just harvested about 75 bags of maize – a respectable yield for her farm. Relatively young and very eager to learn new technologies, Stella quickly adopted the conservation practices taught under the project. She began to apply fertilizer appropriately, and carried out intercropping, crop rotation, and ripping and basin-making to ensure soil conservation. One year later, she harvested exactly double the number of bags, thanks to improved practices learned from the SHARP project.
As a lead farmer of the Sikale Farmers’ Group, which was formed with support from Land O’Lakes at the start of the project, Stella was also quick to learn the essentials of producing and storing fodder. “As a lead farmer, I must lead by example and the silo is very helpful in training my peers on the benefits of improved storage,” Stella explains.
So far, she has invested in one metal silo – one of the innovations in the project – to ensure her surplus maize is safely and hygienically stored, away from pests and the dreaded aflatoxin fungus. She is impressed that almost one year after purchasing the 480 Zambian Kwacha silo, her grain is as clean and fresh as the day she stored it. “With this metal silo, I do not have to incur costs and possible health risks associated with the excessive use of storage pesticides, as was the case with the traditional storage mechanisms. My grain is also safe from theft, since the metal silo fits nicely in this hut,” Stella adds.
“In previous years, food shortages would force me to rely on relatives for basic financial support,” she recalls. “Now that I have the means to not only drastically increase my yield but also safely store my produce, I can take advantage of better prices in the market, to sell my grain early in the year,” Stella adds. The proper storage provided by these silos will also guarantee food security for Stella’s household. She plans to invest in at least two more silos for storing sorghum and groundnuts.