From Guns To Farms: A Story Of A Former Zambian Poacher

From Guns To Farms: A Story Of A Former Zambian Poacher

From Al Jazeera

Edson Zimba was one of the first poachers to turn in his gun and begin working with COMACO more than a decade ago. Before that, he’d supported his family by hunting elephants, buffalo, warthogs and other animals in and around the North Luangwa National Park, a remote reserve a bit larger than Rhode Island.

But over his 20 years as a poacher, he watched animal populations shrink due to overhunting. Each year he had to go deeper into the wilderness, leaving his two wives and eight children to fend for themselves for long stretches. So, when COMACO came to the community and began talking about conserving animals and sustainable farming, it didn’t take him long to get on board. “It upgraded our minds,” he said.

The group also improved his family’s standard of living. After turning in his gun, Zimba received carpentry training and hand tools. He and his family also learned new sustainable-farming methods, which boosted their yields and meant they were able to stop buying expensive synthetic fertilizers. Zimba sells his crops to COMACO and said the family has plenty to eat. He has even bought two grinding mills, one for each wife, used to mill corn for their staple food, nshima, which is similar to polenta. The women have made a small enterprise with the machines, charging locals 4 kwacha (about 50 cents) to grind a tin of corn. “I’m living much better than in the past,” Zimba said.

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Once harvested, Zimba’s crops go to COMACO’s food-processing factory in Chipata, the largest city in Zambia’s Eastern Province. The facility produces peanut butter, honey, rice and a hot-cereal mix from crops grown by its farmers, who number about 100,000 in the region. The products are sold under the brand name It’s Wild! at supermarkets across the country.

Individual farmers, who organize themselves into producer groups and cooperatives, adopt sustainable techniques — they fertilize with compost, incorporate trees into their farms and minimize tilling. Those who follow the guidelines earn a premium price, typically 10 to 20 percent higher than the market rate. To help them comply, and improve food security, COMACO gives loans of seeds, technical assistance and, in some cases, the materials to build poultry houses, wells and efficient stoves.

It’s Wild! had $2.6 million in sales in fiscal year 2013-2014, enough to sustain its own operations, but not the work it does to support farmers, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and other donors.

Read more at Al Jazeera