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Unsung Heroes of Rural Resilience 0

PEMBA, Southern Zambia – In scorching heat, Ellen Kacha, inspects her almost failed maize crop, which now looks promising after a rare occurrence this season — normal rainfall for at least two weeks.

Droughts have been a common feature in recent years. This El Nino-induced phenomenon that is sweeping across southern Africa this year seems to have worsened smallholders’ problems. Ellen’s smallholding is no exception.

“The drought spell this year is worse as compared to the last three seasons. Regardless of conservation technologies that I have adopted, I have not been spared”, says the 56 year farmer of Pemba district. Ellen has been practicing conservation agriculture since 2003.

Ellen says she learnt resilient agricultural technologies the hard way, “providing for children as a single mother for 23 years. At that time, my soils had become completely useless due to erosion, so I continued seeking for better methods to sustain my family and my introduction to conservation farming was timely”, she explains.

According to available statistics, 78 per cent of women in Zambia engage in agriculture, contributing a significant percentage to the country’s agricultural output. This output supports 70 per cent of the country’s 13 million plus population. .

However, women remain marginalised in terms of access to credit and most importantly, land. While the former is blamed on financial exclusion, the latter is a product of patriarchal customary land ownership where women are largely excluded from owning land except through their husbands.

Customary land is held and used in accordance with customs and traditions of local communities, without any documentation, further complicating matters for women to obtain credit and other required support for smallholder agricultural development.

“What I have seen in the region is that women are usually at the centre of coping with disasters but are neglected in long-term planning for resilient projects. Poor access to land and other incentives is a serious stumbling block to their progress. This should change for women know better on how to cope”, says Juliane Ineichen, deputy regional director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the financiers of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) rural resilience initiative — R4 — being implemented in Zambia’s southern province.

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by Friday Phiri

Photo Credits Friday Phiri/IPS

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