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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Notes from Zambia

Aug. 4, 2010
We were once again awakened to the sounds of crowing roosters and the sight of a beautiful sunrise. Each day begins with a brisk feel and gradually warms up. Although the sky has normally remained overcast, this is the dry season, so no precipitation is expected until October. We all anticipated another day of new insights and experiences that our COMACO representatives and participants had to offer. We are continually struck by the extreme friendliness and warmth of the region's people. Z-team members are also learning the local Nyanga language and interacting with our many new friends and colleagues.

The Farmers Group joined up with the Mnkhanya Chiefdom Farmer group for a group field day with a focus on compost and basin making and the use of seed planters. Agroforestry was also included in the training. The Green Market Group had an equally fascinating day with the Chizombo and Masumba groups, where trainings were conducted in natural remedy preparation, vegetable marketing, permaculture around villages and crop management. There was also a special re-emphasis on the importance of pest management in gardening. They even had the opportunity to see some local wildlife such as elephants and monkeys. The learning and exchange of ideas continued with the Poultry and Bee Group. COMACO has recently launched several layer hen operations with local producers, and success was being immediately felt in terms of extra income and newer dependable sources of nutrition for families. Beekeeping operations are also providing some much-needed extra income. Several of the beekeepers utilize beehives constructed from small hollowed-out logs hanging from tree branches. Although this is a very low-cost style of hive, the Z-Team and COMACO staff joined in discussions with the producers concerning the possibilities of obtaining newer styles of hives, which would store greater amounts of honey and provide an easier harvest. It was also an extreme pleasure to be greeted and sent off by an enthusiastic group of farmers who were singing and dancing to traditional song and dance! The local children also took part in the celebration!

After gathering back at our lodge, a hearty supper over candlelight (due to a power outage), which included freshly-grown products from the area, was enjoyed by all. A very fitting close to the meal was an intense time of reflection. Members of the Farmers Group, Caleb and Wyatt, shared their observations and insights on the role and visibility of women in the farmer groups, which they found to be positive. They also pondered deeper into the COMACO model: not only the “how” of ag production within this model, but, even more importantly, the “why” of the model. Catharine and Austin of the Green Market Group wondered about “what’s next” for food security of the region’s people. For instance, if and when the people would become food secure, what would be the role of COMACO in their lives? The Poultry and Bee Group, Laura and Jake, added to this discussion about the future of COMACO and its long-term sustainability.

The evening wound down with some impromptu salsa dance lessons from Laura! On to Thursday!

The Z-Team

Aug. 3, 2010

Group Work Begins...
Today, we awoke to another beautiful Zambian sunrise. After a hearty breakfast ably prepared by Flackson and Richard, we finally dove into the specific work of our mission. We were divided into three working groups: Farmers Groups (Wyatt and Caleb); Green Market (Austin and Catharine); and Poultry and Bees (Jake and Laura). The stage was set with all groups touring COMACO's Mfuwe office and food processing center. It was there that we witnessed the processing and packaging of their own peanut butter, maize, rice and honey. The place was also abuzz with other activities such as retail store sales and producer workshops. After this, we were off to our separate destinations where we had the opportunity to observe and interact with COMACO's extension personnel, farmer leaders and producers.

The Farmers Groups team had the unique experience when it visited a community in the chiefdom of Nsefu. As we drove down the road to the meeting site, we were greeted by an enthusiastic group performing a welcoming ritual of song and dance. After a period of instruction followed by questions and answers, the group made their way down to a plot where the producers practiced implanting the new techniques with hands-on skill building. The groups also explored the compost pits and compost heaps the farmers were starting in order to have fertilizer prepared for the planting season when the first rains came. The group found the experience to be very enlightening and were able to ask many questions of the producers that will benefit their efforts in developing a learning page for COMACO’s Better Life books.

The Green Market Group had the great privilege of meeting face to face with a noted retired American newspaper journalist, Will, who now resides in Zambia and is assisting COMACO with marketing efforts. They also were witness to a group training in natural remedy preparation, the Walondwa crop management group and the Lupande Producers Group, which learned about enhancing pest management in vegetables.

The Poultry and Bees Team conferred with the Ncheka VAG in the Mkhanya community in dealing with the setup of apiaries and hanging of hives. They also took part in discussions on how to best increase honey production.

This busy day was capped off with a wonderful supper, which included a truly authentic Zambian staple: nshima. It is a very thick porridge that is made of finely ground maize and is meant to be eaten by hand and dipped in a sauce. It was quite a tasty new experience for all of us!

We look forward to another great day in Zambia.

The Z-Team

Aug. 2, 2010
Farmers Day, a National Holiday in Zambia

Before sunrise, we were greeted by the cro

wing of the neighborhood roosters and the distant first cries of the local people who were riding their bicycles through the village, hawking their local produce. We also saw our first sunrise in Mfuwe, which was absolutely beautiful. The weather here is gorgeous and the mornings bring with it a refreshing atmosphere that meets the hospitality of the Zambian people. Our breakfast of beans, eggs and toast prepared us for a long day of further understanding the COMACO model as well as the schedule for the next two and a half weeks. Dale Lewis and several of his associates facilitate

d much dialogue that gave a clearer understanding of the people-focused approach to conservation and improved life for the people. This model is centered on social change to help the people pull themselves out of poverty and food insecurity. We learned that the people had been accustomed to growing the most cash valuable cr

op year after year until the soil gets depleted. They would then burn off more terrain for more crop production, which took land availability away from animals. This practice also led to decreased yields and more food insecurity t

hat drove people to snare wild animals for income. The COMACO staff has spent the last seven to eight

years combating these routines and replacing them with practices that would foster self-sufficiency and land/animal conservation. COMACO now works with THOUSANDS of small-scale farmers in an established system including producers divided into groups with group leaders who are regularly assisted by extension staff. The model makes it possible for people to earn a living in the local agricultural economy. COMACO’s website is www.itswild.org.

After a day of learning about COMACO and our work this week, our group headed down the road with some of the extension staff for an evenin

g stroll where we met up with some locals at a village hangout spot. While we enjoyed a little music and conversation, Wyatt decided to step into the local barber shop for a Zambian haircut

(much to the amusement of many local kids). Afterward, we meandered back to our lodging and enjoyed dinner together by candlelight due to a short power outage. Now it’s off to bed—tomorrow we head out into the fie



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