In honor of the United Nations International Day of Cooperatives 2020, we highlight the challenges of smallscale farming cooperatives and our unique methods of identifying and building their potential. We understand the interlinkage between farming and climate change and promote #Coops4ClimateAction.
Smallscale farmers in Zambia face a myriad of problems as they go about farming their land and producing crops to sustain themselves. At the most basic level, farming can be successful with four resources – soil, seed, sun and water. While the sun shines bright in the Kafue District of Central Zambia, water, quality soil, and productive seed are not so easily available. Rainfall can be scarce and unreliable (only becoming more unpredictable as the impact of climate change is felt) making investing in forms of irrigation vital for reliable harvests. Yet, this is not just the challenge in Kafue, it is rampant in southern Africa and beyond. As any green thumbed hobbyist knows, soil is so much more than dirt. As a vital source of nutrients for healthy plant growth, as well as playing a role in combating climate change, healthy soil for planting takes investment. And the quality of seed, determining the resilience and success of crops, varies. Without accurate, replenished input resources (think appropriate fertilizer and new seed varieties), both soil and seed diminish over time.
Supporting the introduction of agricultural technologies to alleviate these obstacles to bountiful harvest is a vital component of The Harvest Fund model. Yet this support is only part of the equation: at The Harvest Fund we know that successful enterprises are built and sustained by people.
How do humans succeed?
Whether it is business or sport, arts or science, small or large, it is people that drive success stories. Renowned behavioral psychologists highlight certain qualities which can determine success.
Pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth identified ‘Grit’ as a determining factor in success from the classroom to the football field. Defined as a perseverance and passion for long term goals, Duckworth posits that critical to accomplishing purpose is the ability to overcome inevitable setbacks in pursuit of a goal, to not give up after a knock but to stay committed to achieving an aim.
Highly respected psychologist Carol Dweck has researched motivation and how humans succeed for decades. Dweck’s most influential insight is that a ‘Growth Mindset’- the capacity to approach challenges and failures as learning steps along a journey - is fundamental to achieving our goals - even those that feel a step too far.
The best part of these insights? Both ‘Grit’ and ‘Growth Mindset’ are characteristics which can be developed. With the right culture and environment, which reward perseverance and support development, individuals can build their capacity to continue beyond challenges.
The potential that female smallholders already possess is the most important element of alleviating hunger and extreme poverty in Zambia through the transformation of farming practices.In banding together as cooperatives, these women-led groups have pooled their resources and skills to develop their smallscale farms.
During the selection phase for The Harvest Fund pilot, 15 groups of high potential women farmers met with an expert panel. What stood out about these women farmers? What attributes were on display? The panel reported that four broad areas caught their attention:
Motivation: Through sharing their goals and objectives, the women revealed their motivation and priorities. The women were laser focused on their business goals – whether that was developing a roadside stand to sell their produce or owning a small shop or diversifying their farming. Added to this, how the women chose to spend their small income underlined this focus: the majority of co-op members were budgeting with an eye on their future farming outgoings. And the little money left over? Many women used surplus income to pay for schooling of their children revealing their belief in the value of education to the next generation.
Resilience: Smallscale, subsistence farming in Zambia and neighboring countries is, by no means, a walk in the park. The women farmers have battled macro level factors such as climate, including droughts which have ruined entire harvests in the past, and social structures, including negative gender attitudes. Additional unique local factors, such as the cooperative who had to rebound when their entire pig flock was poisoned in a botched robbery, only add to the pressures that these women have faced and overcome. Through the experiences these women shared, it is undeniable that they have grit!
Creative Ideas: From developing a keen interest in solar power which they had seen neighbors adopt to pooling savings of about $1 per member through the cooperative model to buy new pigs when adversity struck, the farmers already frequently demonstrate creative and realistic thinking to problem solve and develop new ventures. Their ideas highlighted a thoughtful commitment to build their businesses and made clear that these women are determined to make the most of new opportunities.
Learning: To fully embrace the opportunities that The Harvest Fund will bring – from microfinance to utilizing new technologies – women farmers will need to be receptive to new ideas and embrace engaging with on-the-ground support from their local government partner. Demonstrating a ‘Growth Mindset’ will enable motivated women farmers to overcome their challenges, lean in to new resources and support and build economically and environmentally sustainable farming practices for the long term.
The Harvest Fund contribution
So how does The Harvest Fund marry the insights of psychologists with high potential women farmers? By fostering a positive and supportive community which rewards growth and supports our partner women over many years. A core tenet of The Harvest Fund model centers on incentivizing long-term changes, including post-harvest storage and savings practices to allow farmers to maximize their income and grow their businesses. Unlike some traditional aid methodologies which have had unintended consequences, The Harvest Fund is committed to lasting solutions to alleviate poverty.
Through our multi-pronged approach to international development - empowering women farmers with knowledge and technology - The Harvest Fund strives to support women farmers to make the most of their plots of land and their own potential, setting in motion a self-sustaining model of development.
The Chikoka and Kafue Estate cooperatives demonstrated the resilience, motivation, ideas and learning which will help them make the best use of the resources and new opportunities that The Harvest Fund will deliver. These two small groups of resourceful and determined farmers, with the help of The Harvest Fund and local partners, will help lead the way towards sustainable farming, boosting their incomes and producing harvests that will benefit their entire communities and beyond.
Chris has a professional background in political campaigns and communications and achieved an MS in Global Politics, focusing on global justice and fairness. Having moved to the USA from the UK, Chris is supporting non-profits promoting community and equity to share their stories and maximize their impact.