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Monday, August 23, 2010

Notes from Zambia

August 19 and 20, 2010 BACK IN WASHINGTON, D.C.

After 22 hours of travel, we arrived safely in our nation’s capitol. Though the flight was long, the service was fantastic and the trip did not seem to drag by. We arrived around 8 in the morning and easily made it through customs and to the shuttle. Upon arriving at the hotel, we were warmly welcomed by National FFA staff member Cindy Hefner. We then checked into our rooms, enjoyed a warm shower and a couple of hours of leisure time before enjoying a nice American meal. Afterward, we assembled under the shade of a canopy of leaves in a nearby park, sat in a circle and reflected on the trip. As a group we answered Cindy’s questions about our experience and briefed her on the pros and cons of the program. We discussed how we can share this experience with others and how our knowledge of the COMACO model could be applied in our future careers.

We returned to the hotel conference room for one-on-one interviews with Cindy, questionnaires regarding the trip and surveys about the program. We also took time to write much deserved thank you letters to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for making this entire program possible. For our last dinner as a team, we had reservations at the Founding Farmers Restaurant in Georgetown where we had a wonderful meal and continued enjoying each other’s company.

The end of the day could not come soon enough so that we all could get some much needed sleep and recover from the jet lag that we all were experiencing. Thankfully we were able to sleep in for the next morning.

Our final day together gave us the opportunity to wrap up our debriefing and to take a few hours to view some of the sights of Washington, D.C. before we went our separate ways. Even as we viewed these amazing monuments and reflected on their meaning to us as Americans, our hearts and minds were still with the wonderful, intriguing people of Zambia. They have forever touched our lives and we hope that we have made a difference in theirs. We are very grateful for having been given this opportunity.


Along with the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, many thanks to several very special people with the National FFA Organization and Foundation who played a major role in the planning and direction of this experience: Bill Stagg, Marilyn Ross, Julie Woodard, Marty Tatman, Nina Crutchfield and Michael Dolch. I deeply appreciate their support.

I would also like to thank members of the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center administration for allowing me to take part in this amazing experience: Dr. Paul Coreil, Vice Chancellor and Director of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service; and Dr. Debra Davis, Head, Organization Development and Evaluation Unit. I will have much to share with my AgCenter colleagues as well as our entire state as we continue to move forward in our mission.

Of course, along with the people mentioned above, I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to the members of the Z-Team:

Laura Stump: University of Arizona

Jake Chilcoat: Oklahoma State University

Austin Larrowe: Virginia Tech University

Caleb Dodd: Texas Tech University

Wyatt DeJong: South Dakota State University

Catharine Kuber: Purdue University

It was my extreme honor and privilege to have worked with these six outstanding up-and-coming “movers and shakers.” Throughout this entire experience, this first-class group exhibited great professionalism, compassion, fortitude, courage and sense of humor even amidst environments and situations that were at times very challenging. I was continually impressed by their communication skills and willingness to share their particular areas of expertise with the COMACO professionals and local producers. They have touched my life in a very special way and I shall be forever grateful. I wish them the very best as they continue with their respective life journeys.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Notes from Zambia

Aug. 16, 2010 THE BIG FINISH

It’s hard to believe that our time in this intriguing, beautiful land is quickly drawing to a close! After two weeks of intense work, we compiled and presented our case studies to COMACO staff. The results of our findings and recommendations definitely generated much healthy and thought-provoking discussion among all participants. At the close of this morning-long activity, we presented thank-you cards and gifts to all staff members who played a role in our program from beginning to end. Although we all look forward to returning to our loved ones back in the U.S., our hearts were heavy as we said our good-byes to our new friends and colleagues. We hope that we will one day be able to meet again to continue our work and build our friendships.

We depart tomorrow morning for the first leg of our journey back across the pond, thus we will not have e-mail access until our return to Washington, D.C. on August 19; so . . . see ya soon!

The Z-Team

Aug. 14-15, 2010

What a fascinating and relaxing weekend we had at the It’s Wild Bush Camp! We departed on Saturday morning in the hands of our most capable driver and guide, Charles Ngoma (he also serves as the manager of the camp). Although the actual drive takes only two hours from Mfuwe, we took our time (around six hours) and made frequent stops to explore a national park and wildlife management area and to view the wildlife and vegetation. Once we finally arrived at the camp, we were greeted by the friendly and capable staff who provided first-class treatment. For the remainder of the afternoon until early evening, we were led on a short nature hike. We had a restful night, being serenaded by the nearby hippos and other creatures of the bush. The next morning, we were served breakfast at 5:30 a.m. then departed for a three-and-a-half hour hike at 6 a.m. During this walk, we were guided through a large portion of the park and were able to view such wildlife as elephants, hippos, impalas, kudus, giraffes and baboons. Upon our return, we enjoyed a tasty brunch, relaxed a bit and then headed back to Mfuwe. Friends and family, get ready to see lots of pictures upon our return home!

The Z-Team

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Notes from Zambia

Aug. 13, 2010

Today was a very important day where each team met with their respective COMACO leader to compile their reports, which will be presented this coming Monday. The case studies that are being organized are the result of the intense work that was performed by the groups over the last two weeks:

Farmer Groups

Z-Team Members: Wyatt and Caleb

COMACO Staff Member: Nathan Mulambya

Green Market

Z-Team Members: Catharine and Austin

COMACO Staff Member: Simon Banda

Poultry and Bees

Z-Team Members: Jake and Laura

COMACO Staff Member: Gilbert Botha

We look forward to our presentations on Monday.

NOW, time for some rest and relaxation! Tomorrow, we head for the COMACO Bush Camp for some fun and adventure. We hope to see plenty of wildlife and other feats of nature. See you on Monday!

The Z Team

Aug. 12, 2010

The weather today once again proved to be rather unseasonably cool, and it certainly provided for some interesting conditions during our transport times! However, it didn’t dampen the spirits of the Z-Team. We are making the big push toward tomorrow’s main task of preparing our final reports with our respective COMACO team leaders. We all felt a twinge of sadness knowing that this was our final day of visits with producers.

The Poultry and Bees team were once again part of a meeting of new and prospective COMACO members in the Jumbe area. This crowd was even larger than yesterday’s, with the number attending hovering around 50. This was exciting to witness since this means that even more producers are joining the ranks of those who are aiming for food security along with preserving wildlife through sustainable farming methods. The Farmer Group team attended another meeting of lead farmers and witnessed a particularly high level of professionalism by the participants as they are stepping up in their leadership roles. The Green Market Team visited area COMACO gardeners who are having challenges with elephants raiding their gardens and trampling and eating their produce. While these gardeners were very sad and forlorn, they nonetheless wished to remain firm in their commitment to sustainable production. During our time there, they were given instruction on mulching and establishment of individual tree nurseries. They were given the seeds on behalf of COMACO with the agreement that the trees are to planted for use as windbreaks and sources of nitrogen for the soils in their fields.

During mid-afternoon, the entire team traveled to a local safari lodge where we met with personnel in charge of food and beverage with the intent of creating a new market there for COMACO produce. While traveling in and out of the establishment, we were excited to see some wildlife such as elephants, monkeys and giraffes! On the road back to the guest house, we were delighted to witness a spectacular Zambian sunset. We are confident that this beauty will be a great omen for tomorrow’s activities.

The Z Team


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Notes from Zambia

Aug. 11, 2010

We awoke this morning to a very different weather scenario. Whereas most of our winds had been gently blowing in from the east since our arrival, a strong south wind made its presence known and stayed with us all day into the evening. Not only did it cause the temperature to drop by several degrees, it was also responsible for blowing in a seasonal phenomenon: the itch caused by particles emitted by the buffalo bean plant. However, it was nothing that a good shower and change of clothes couldn't cure! It certainly helped us to be in solidarity with our Zambian counterparts, who experience this as part of their regular life experience. Besides that, today was another beautiful day in Africa and a huge team bonding experience where we all shared resources and thoughts.

One part of our day encompassed a visit to a farmers group that grew a variety of crops, but their main crop is rice. They have really united as a community to help with the problem of destructive wildlife. When the rice crop is still young and flooded, the farmers will spend nights out in the field and the mud to help keep the elephants and hippos away. The farmers clash pots, wave torches or blast pepper powder into the air, which irritates the animals. We were also amazed by the productivity that this group has. The group includes about 600 farmers and last year, they were able to produce an excess of 100 long tons (long ton = 2,200 lbs.) of rice. This was after they took out enough for their families of six. Remember, all of this is done on foot and by hand! We also had the opportunity to visit a government-run agricultural research station where work is being done in the development of upland rice, which would not require flooding as part of its cultivation practice.

After visiting several producers today, our Green Market group once again noticed differences between the communities with COMACO producer-members in their ranks as opposed to those that did not. The members’ gardens generally contained a wider variety of vegetables in greater abundance. This provided greater income, better nutrition and an overall better quality of life.

The Poultry and Bees group had an interesting experience; they were part of a training for a large group of prospective COMACO members. Because of the size of the crowd, the meeting was held in two classrooms at an area elementary school. Z-Team members found it to be at times a challenging gathering because of the size of the group and some initial skepticism by some of the attendees. However, these challenges were deftly worked through and the activity was deemed a success.

After reassembling at the guest house and enjoying a wonderful dinner, members shared their feelings and observations after experiencing such an interesting and sometimes challenging day. One of the members shared that he felt an even deeper solidarity with the Zambian people as we felt our discomforts today, knowing that they suffer such distress on a regular basis. With regard to the COMACO staff, we are noticing even more the great passion that they have for the COMACO model and that they are devoting their lives to its cause for the betterment of their society. We also had our own deeper discussion on COMACO and its positive effects on the issues of conservation and addressing the roots of hunger. Because the model provides for the empowerment of its members and staff who are all Zambian (save for Director Dale Lewis) it intrinsically exudes a high level of credibility within the region.

As the winds have finally subsided and the night settles in, we look forward to a new day of opportunity.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Texan in Tanzania

Blaze Currie, the Leadership Development Coordinator for the Texas FFA Association, is representing the National FFA Organization at the African 4-H leadership conference in Tanga, Tanzania. Blaze’s participation is funded by a generous gift from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to encourage collaboration between national FFA and the National 4-H Council. As part of Blaze’s participation, he is a member of the 4-H team that is gathering information about youth development and engagement in agricultural programs. He will also do some practical field visits to small holder farms in the bush country. National FFA is grateful to Tom Maynard, and the Texas FFA, for making Blaze available for this important project.

Below are a few pictures Blaze wanted to share:

Picture 1
Me with Lawrence of Nigeria and "Boat" of Ghana.

Picture 2

This is a picture of a public restroom or "toilet" at the caves that we visited near Tanga.

This wasn't a bad toilet...and is pretty typical. There was no running water.

Picture 3

This picture was taken at a village near Tanga.This is an 11-year-old girl named Faith. She has a small poultry project set up by Tanzania 4-H. She started with five chickens and built a shed for them. She has 14 chickens now. She will start selling chickens when she gets up to about 20 or 30 chickens. She will get about 8,000 Tanzanian Shillings for one chicken, or about U.S. $5.30 per chicken. She is in the fifth grade and is the oldest sibling. Her 4-H club meets once a month, and she gets help from her school teacher.

Picture 4

This is just one more picture that I took near the village in Tanga. This village was in a poor area, but they did have some running water and food.



Notes from Zambia

Aug. 10, 2010

Today was another very interesting and insightful day, causing all of us to take pause and reflect on what we are experiencing in this amazing land.

The Farmers Group attended a training of Lead Farmers at the Mfuwe COMACO Trading Center. We are continually impressed with the quality of leadership that the COMACO Extension staff portray.

The Poultry and Bees Group ventured deep into the bush in the Jumbe region where they attended a training for Bee Keepers. This is a relatively new group; the roster is made up of a majority of women and is chaired by a woman, something which the group found to be very satisfying. After the lesson, we took a tour of several of this group’s hives, which make up their apiary. After this tour, team members were treated to some local Zambian fare: nshima with chicken and stir-fried greens.

The Green Market Group had the opportunity to visit some more local vegetable producers. Team members were once again struck by the passion that the COMACO Extension field representative exudes when he works and interacts with COMACO members. After this visit, Wyatt and Catharine had the great opportunity to visit Mushroom Safari Lodge and see a wide array of wildlife.

The evening time after supper allowed time for reflection and discussion among Z-Team members on a wide array of issues ranging from work ethics to poverty and health issues to positive societal/economic development. Such discussion is certainly vital to assisting us to deepen our understanding of COMACO and Zambian society.

Bring on Wednesday!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Notes from Zambia

Aug. 9, 2010

We suppose that the best word to describe today’s events is “WOW!” Among many things, we gained deeper insight into the culture of the region. Each team ventured into areas farther away from our previous visits, this time mostly visiting with producers who are not COMACO members but have had some exposure to the concept. Two of our groups even ventured into a new chiefdom, which means that the chief of the region had to first be notified and consulted some time ago to gain permission into his territory. Once this is done, COMACO’s efforts may continue. We were happy (but not surprised to hear) that the chiefs of both the existing chiefdom as well as the new one are very supportive. We also were exposed to deeper issues of poverty and its associated challenges as evidenced by interviewing producers and visual observation of the area and people.

The Farmers Group ventured into the Jumbe region and, with the help of a Zambian Agriculture Department agent, interviewed 13 farmers on several topics including their current situation in terms of production practices, crop and livestock diseases, marketing, issues with wildlife trampling their fields, education of their children and its associated costs, and financial situation. These in-depth interviews provided much deeper insight into their lives and provided more opportunity to expose them to preliminary information about COMACO and how their involvement could possibly be of benefit to them. They also had the opportunity to visit the fields of two of the producers and witnessed the destructive aftermath of an invasion of elephants into a maize field. After this visit, they visited nearby Mambwe High School with has an agricultural component in its curriculum and visited with several teachers and one administrator.

The Poultry and Bees team traveled to the same region and visited with several producers who were also involved in charcoal production. Through this, the team members were able to witness the stark reality of deforestation and producers receiving bare-bones prices for their charcoal.

The Green Market Team had the experience of walking several miles deeper into the bush to visit and confer with several vegetable producers. It was there that they were also witness to people who were dealing with even deeper challenges of poverty and disease. They were deeply moved by their experiences.

As the entire team reflected on the day’s activities back at the guest house, they entered into even deeper discussion about the economic, agricultural and societal situation in Zambia and the role that COMACO can continue to play. They also pondered the future of COMACO and how it could continue to evolve. All look forward to the submission of their case studies and final report to Dale Lewis and his staff next week.

We also bid farewell to Daniel Sheehan, Crop Research Specialist with the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, who was with us for the past week. He was indeed a great addition to our team, providing deep professional insight to all of our activities, all the while learning about COMACO and FFA. We wish him and his family well as they travel to South Africa for the next several months to work with the foundation’s research farm.

On to Tuesday!

The Z-Team

Monday, August 9, 2010

Notes from Zambia

Aug. 7-8, 2010

It is hard to believe that our first week in this wonderful country has already passed! After a very busy and productive week, the time came for us to sit with COMACO staff at the Mfuwe office on Saturday morning to review the week’s activities. Each team (Farmers Group, Green Market, and Poultry and Bees) had a thorough, open discussion about the major findings and observations gleaned from the member meetings and farm visits. This information will assist us in preparing our final report and recommendations. We also brainstormed solutions to the challenges faced by the poultry producers and beekeepers. We all felt that being immersed in the day-to-day “real life” activities associated with the COMACO model have greatly deepened our understanding of the organization's inner workings. The rest of the day was devoted to some “down time” at the guest house as well as time for journaling and organizing our information, pictures and video.

Sunday was a special day for all of us as we took the opportunity to attend area worship services, rest and relax, take an afternoon walk, partake in some delicious, wholesome meals and visit a local market. With our bodies, hearts and minds renewed, we’re ready for another fruitful week!

The Z-Team

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Notes from Zambia

Aug. 6, 2010

Gaining Deeper Insights
It was generally agreed upon by all Z-Team members that the experiences of the day brought greater clarity and insights into the overall picture of COMACO and its member producers. We witnessed a wide array of socioeconomic situations, ranging from slowly climbing up the
economic ladder to evidence of more struggle even amidst the best efforts. However, a sense of hopelessness was not felt or observed; rather, it was a sense of determination in spite of less than desirable situations.

Laura and Jake loaded up in back of a pickup truck to meet more beekeepers in a local chiefdom. Today was the monthly extension meeting that was aimed at refreshing the farmers' knowledge of successfully producing honey. All 30 of the meeting attendees were group leaders, meaning that they are responsible for bringing the knowledge that the extension agent gave them today back to the other farmers in the villages. The group gathered around a flip chart threaded through a tree vine and was attentive and engaged for the entire three-and-a-half hour meeting--both with listening and exchanging knowledge gained through their personal experiences in keeping bees. At lunchtime, they were also privileged to dine with the participants who shared some of their local stable, nshima.

Caleb and Wyatt went around the area of Nsefu interviewing COMACO members about the impact of the program on their lives and possible areas for growth or improvement. They spoke via translator to five different farmers. The common theme that was easily identified was that the work that COMACO has done has established a market for the people that have enabled them to make a profit and thus have a real, reliable source of income. Because of this income that they now have, however, budgeting seems to be an issue since formal education in this area has not been done. Overall, the farming practices that COMACO has introduced has changed not only how people farm but also their quality of life. Families are becoming more food secure and the nutritional value of their foods have improved along with it. It was eye-opening that families are now able to have more sources of protein and even small amounts such as consuming one to six chickens per month and only a limited amount of eggs.

Austin and Catharine traveled to a more remote section of the Mkhanya Chiefdom to confer with vegetable growers who were involved in the production of tomatoes, eggplants, and sweet potatoes, just to name a few, along with maize. They have all encountered difficulties with the invasion of animals such as elephants and monkeys who trample and/or eat their produce. They are doing their best to repel them by non-lethal means. We were also privileged to get a deeper view into the personal life of one of the producers who, besides raising his own four children, is caring for a number of young relatives and non-relatives who have been orphaned.

Upon return to our chalet, we were once again treated to some delicious Zambian fare by our cooks, Flackson and Richard. Tomorrow, we will meet with COMACO staff to recap the week's activities and to set our sights on next week's work. What a great day it has been!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Notes from Zambia

Aug. 5, 2010

The new day brought new opportunities for deepening our knowledge of COMACO, its members and their families as well as the Zambian culture of the area. The interaction that we have with all of the major players in this initiative is a very important component of our efforts.

Today was basically a continuation of yesterday's events, observing and interacting with trainings and hands-on field experiences. The Farmers Groups worked in a different Chiefdom, where the efforts were focused on speaking with individual farmers about the impact COMACO has had on their lives and farming practices. It was evident that the presence of COMACO has enabled the people to have a market for their produce. COMACO has also taught them to increase their yields and be more efficient in their work. We had to rely on our extension leader, Nathan, to interpret our questions and the responses to the people. Some of the responses showed us that budget record keeping was not a common practice prior to COMACO using Farmer Cards that record data on products being bought and sold. We could see that this could be an area that may improve the stability of the work that COMACO does to make farmers more sustainable. The COMACO extension staff members are trusted by the people and have had a tremendous impact on marketing efforts.

A visit to the New Farmers group was on the agenda for one of the groups. By the positive interactions and relationship building that we noticed between the farmers and extension staff, you would imagine that they have been with COMACO for years. Everyone was engaged in the process and asked many questions. They thanked us profusely for our help and encouragement through song and dance. Of course, the children were always a delight!

Most of the afternoon was open for us to return to our home base, giving us time to keep up with our journals, organize our research notes and blog.

A special added feature to the agenda was a 6:30 p.m. (or 18:30 as the local people refer to it) trip for several team members to harvest honey from a COMACO member's apiary to perform a honey harvest.

A longer than normal electrical outage provided an opportunity for team members to actually slow the day's pace down and spend quality time with each other outside in the cool night air. We discussed deep life issues and reflected on the day's activities beneath the wonderful starlight of southern Africa.

We look forward to what tomorrow will bring us.

The Z-Team

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


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Notes from Zambia

August 1, 2010

The final leg of our journey: touchdown in Mfuwe! Our sense of anticipation and excitement grew as we made the one-hour jaunt to this very rural area east of the capital city. As we flew in, we observed a rather dry landscape dotted with trees and occasional plumes of smoke and patches of scorched earth. We later discovered that, besides being natural occurrences during this dry season, these were also indications of people either setting fire to trees to smoke out beehives or using fire to flush out wildlife for hunting.

Upon disembarking from the plane, we immediately sensed a warmer climate. It was still a little cool, but it was noticeably warmer than that of the higher-elevated Lusaka. We were warmly received at the airport by the local COMACO representatives. At long last, we were finally able to meet Dr. Dale Lewis, program director and major host. After gathering our bags, we were whisked away a short distance down the bumpy road to the small cluster of buildings that we will call our home for the next 18 days. Later in the afternoon, we returned to the airport to pick up Daniel Sheehan, Crop Research Specialist with the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, who will spend the next week and a half with us.

After surveying our surroundings and moving our gear into our rooms, we were treated to our first meal of home-cooked Zambian fare: chicken with rice along with a helping of locally grown greens. Most of it was cooked over an open fire, and it was most delicious!

After group reflection, we called it a day, looking forward to meeting more of the COMACO team tomorrow to learn more about this amazing organization.

The Z-Team

July 30 and 31, 2010

After over 22 hours of travel, we have touched down on Zambian soil – exhausted, yet very excited! Our journey across the Atlantic began at 5:30 a.m. on July 30 with a ride to Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., a flight to Rome for a crew change and refueling stop (which is always a desirable decision!), then to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We then changed planes and traveled to Harare, Zimbabwe and finally to Lusaka, the capitol of Zambia. As we gazed upon the Ethiopian landscape from the air as well as during our brief time on the ground, we reflected on the long, rich history of this ancient land and how it has made its own unique contribution in shaping our world’s civilization as we know it. However, we all grieved a bit, knowing how, even within its abundant natural resources, the country suffers because a vast array of complicated challenges: some because of the forces of nature and many because of human decisions. The same goes for its neighbor to the south, Zimbabwe.

Our entire group agreed that we received first-class service from the Ethiopian Airlines personnel every step of the way. These many hours in the air allowed us more time to get to know each other better and to focus on our mission. It also presented wonderful opportunities to soak in the rich tapestry of world cultures represented on board as indicated by the cacophony of languages and accents heard and the styles of dress and mannerisms. Although all members of the Z-Team have prior experience in international travel, none had ever experienced the African continent. We met a number of delightful people who hailed from such places as Canada, Zimbabwe, India, the United Kingdom and Zambia as well as a number of Americans who, like us, were headed to different locations on the African continent to work with and provide assistance to various communities.

As we made our way down the stairs of the airplane, we were immediately reminded of our host’s suggestion that we bring sweaters – it was a bit chilly! However, we were warmly received at the Lusaka airport by representatives of our host, COMACO. We were guaranteed that we would be placed in very capable hands, and this promise was indeed fulfilled. Although we were quite weary, we were determined to take advantage of the time that we had in the city to do a bit of sightseeing.

When leaving the airport, we travelled in two new Toyota SUVs on a nice two-lane highway that led from the airport to the inner city of Lusaka. Over drivers informed us that this project was built with funding from the Japanese government. Based off of later experiences, it became apparent how fortunate we were to be travelling on such nice roadways. We made our way through the city where we saw an abundance of markets and people along the side of the roads. At one point we even saw the motorcade of the president of a visiting country. It was not only the markets and poverty-stricken inner city that we saw but also Zambian’s capitol and other government buildings. We saw a huge social economic gap between the wealthy and the financially challenged, with little evidence of a middle-ground. However, one of the first surprises that we saw was a large pivot irrigation system on the edge of the city. One of our drivers informed us that there are many such pivots on large farms across the country. It did not take long for us to notice the high level of hospitality that the people of Zambia show to visitors as well as their fellow citizens.

After an enlightening little tour of the city, we were wishing that we could have spent more time experiencing the markets in a more first-hand approach; but, because of a lack of time, we found ourselves pulling through some large metal gates to a secluded area where we checked into our accommodation for the evening: the Avon Guest House. After we unloaded our gear, we made the short walk to a little restaurant called the Chit-Chat.

Much to our surprise, the dinner menu choices included many familiar meals such as chicken enchilada wraps, pasta, salad and chips (thick potato wedges). We decided to pass our plates around and share our meals. After partaking of this fine local cuisine, it was finally time for some well-deserved shut-eye! The last leg of our journey to Mfuwe will take place tomorrow where we will meet our main site hosts.

The Z-Team