We at The Harvest Fund, dedicate ourselves to improving agricultural practices in Zambia. Specifically, in order to help fight poverty and hunger in rural areas, we have a business model that provides our women’s farming cooperatives access to good seed, fertilizer, markets, and technologies. We aim to help smallscale women farmers who are culturally excluded in a number of ways - for example, limited access to cash or transport - which leaves them in need of basic materials essential for farming. Comments from two of our board members and influential voices of agricultural development in Africa, Mandla Nkomo, Chief Growth Officer at CGIAR, and Ogo Ibok, founder of www.agriculturenigeria.com, help explain the importance of agricultural business in rural Africa.
Our focus on agriculture comes from the fact that it is one of the most effective ways to alleviate poverty. Through sustainable agricultural practices, we are able to preserve the land and make it more arable over time. This is crucial for countries, like Zambia, where 60% of their population lives below the World Bank threshold for extreme poverty and is ranked 113 on the Global Hunger Index Scale. Additionally, more than half of the population lives in rural areas making agriculture an important step to reduce hunger. As Nkomo said in his podcast interview with Jeroen Douglas, Executive Director of Solidaridad Network:
“A lot of the economies in that region depend on agriculture to a point of 25-30% of GDP, so getting farming in this part of the world becomes important.”
- Trains majority-women cooperatives on climate-smart agriculture practices
- Provides them with innovative agricultural tools necessary for increased crop production
- Introduces them to markets they otherwise would not be able to access so they and The Harvest Fund are able to earn revenue
These strategies that we implement help advance our smallscale women farmers in their crop production so that they earn more and use those earnings for their children's school fees, food, etc. Ibok explained the benefits of agriculture in these communities.
“If you have a situation where everyone is growing what they eat and you are able to feed yourself even if it is the basics, that’s a step in the right direction.”
This demonstrates the need for high-production farming in poverty stricken areas to spur change in mindset and economic growth, which is what we are committed to.
Additionally, our focus on women farmers in Zambia comes from the fact that they make up 85% of the agricultural workforce. Because of prominent gender roles and lack of access to banking, it is difficult for women smallscale farmers to increase their agricultural production.
Ibok discussed the gender disparities that give limited access to women farmers.
“A lot of them support their husbands yet they don't have access to anything, they don't have land, they can't own homes, they cant even get access to loans, some people will say ‘go get your husband if you want to get a loan ’ which is ridiculous no one ever asks this of a man.”
Understanding these societal challenges, which are particularly difficult in the rural areas where we work, we design our social enterprise model to work around these setbacks. For instance, we provide the technologies and training and collect bagged grains and vegetables as repayment. This allows the women farmers to access sustainable solar-powered technologies, such as vegetable storage units or water pumps. Without this intervention, they would not be able to acquire these technologies. Financing terms are too complex and installation requires extensive cellular communication, which is oftentimes unavailable either because of the cost or poor networks.
Moreover, because of traditional household woman-husband roles, women sometimes have difficulty asking their husbands for cash to pay for such technologies or other loans which is also why we accept bagged grains and vegetables as repayment. Our women farmers no longer have to struggle to take out or repay a loan. Instead, they can focus on surplus crop production, which will not just serve as repayment but also as well-balanced meals for their children.
“If you want to grow a country you start with the women and the easiest thing they can do is farming and they do it already, a lot of the women are farmers,” Ibok said. “What they need is a helping hand to make them grow from strength to strength.”