A local agriculture company is taking the knowledge and skill they provide to local farmers in Southwestern Ontario and sharing it with farmers over 12,000 km’s away in the African country of Zambia. And while no-one expects to produce the corn yields of 200 plus bushels per acre that local farmers here are capable of producing, early indications have shown that a 10 to 20 fold increase in yield beyond the current 5 bushels per acre grown by Zambian farmers is quite possible by employing improved management and agronomic practices. Increasing yields for Zambian farmers is life-changing given that Zambia ranks amongst the poorest countries on the Human Development Index and the average Zambian earns less than $1 per day.
South West Ag Partners, a local agricultural business based in Chatham, is partnering with a team of students at Lambton College who are part of an international, non-profit student organization known as Enactus. Enactus works in collaboration with academic and business leaders and is committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to transform lives and shape a better more sustainable world through various projects in 39 counties around the world. The Zambia project is called “One Seed” as it reflects the goal of sowing the seeds of change and improving the quality of life for families in Zambia through agriculture. South West Ag joined the Lambton Enactus project team last summer and has since made 3 trips to the village of Kasaka in Zambia, where the project is centred.
The first trip in August was prior to planting and was intended to evaluate the landscape and help South West Ag determine their comfort level with the project. “Enactus and the people of Kasaka convinced us this was a worthwhile project” said Paul Hazzard, South West Ag General Manager. “There was clearly an opportunity for our expertise to make a difference and they were looking for a hand-up and not a handout, unlike some other communities that were considered.” In late November Barry McFadden and Jim Hazzard of South West Ag, Lambton farmer Mark Lumley and the Enactus team made their second trip, this time to educate and train the 138 farmers on the program and distribute seed, fertilizer, spray and tools to plant their individual one hectare fields. The most recent trip taken by Agronomist Aaron Breimer and Marketing Rep Mike Eaton of South West Ag was in January with the purpose of evaluating the progress of the crop and the effectiveness of the crop plan (see picture below). “There were a few isolated issues with some of the changes that were made to the traditional production system, but with so many variables involved in soil and weather that is pretty common in farming, especially when you have 138 one hectare farms involved. It is a learning process for us and for them, but the opportunity for improvement is enormous” said Briemer. In most cases, the farmers of Kasaka are seeing improved germination, higher populations and crop growth like they have never seen before. Breimer explained how many of the farmers don’t believe you when you tell them the potential yield that their fields may produce based on what we saw. “They are just so excited and appreciative.”
Their excitement is understandable when you consider that they were often producing 5 bushels per acre and are now seeing potential yields of 50 and even 100 bushels per acre. The higher yields will not only allow them to pay back the loans that were made to them through the project to plant their crops, but will also help pay for next year’s inputs and provide additional profits which they have never seen before. Past crops have barely provided a food source for their family. “This project changes people’s lives” says Jim Hazzard, “that’s why we are here with Enactus.”
South West Ag’s pathway to Zambia was as much a result of its company mission as it was strong customer relations. As Paul Hazzard explains, “we are committed to the development of our people and we believe that leadership and teamwork are fundamental requirements to the success of our company, and so we have regularly created and offered opportunities to our staff that will promote and strengthen those traits, at no charge to them.” That effort was ramped-up up in 2013 by sending a team to El Salvador to work on a Habitat for Humanity project and it proved to be an extremely rewarding experience for everyone involved. “We were fortunate enough to come across this opportunity with Enactus through a good farm customer of ours who was involved in the project, Mark Lumley. They were looking for agricultural expertise to improve corn production for farmers in the village of Kasaka, Zambia, and Mark brought it to us. “ We feel very blessed by this opportunity says Hazzard. “There were so many things about this project that we liked: it did not create new infrastructure costs, it was a local partnership and therefore reliable and trustworthy, it delivered tangible and meaningful results, it was hands-on and it was extremely impactful for the farmers and the families we were helping and for our staff. It has created a positive ‘buzz’ across our company that we could not have imagined.”
South West Ag has made a three year commitment of time, money and staff to the One Seed Project and during that period the opportunity is open to their staff to participate and make the trip to Zambia. Eaton feels that his trip to Zambia has changed his outlook on life and says “we’re here for the ag side, but this work has a far bigger impact on the way people live and their quality of life. You can’t even put words to it.”
An invitation to participate financially is also being extended to farm customers and supply partners. Jim Hazzard is organizing South West Ag’s efforts going forward and explains “the funds that go towards the One Seed Project are used to provide $500 repayable micro loans to the participating farmers to helps pay for the seed, fertilizer and herbicides used to grow their corn crop. We are inviting farmers to sponsor one or more farmers and hectares. Donations are tax deductible and will be channeled through the Lambton College Foundation.” Hazzard emphasizes that South West Ag’s participation should help provide confidence in the program and that donors will receive follow-up on the progress of the project. “There may even be an opportunity for others to accompany us on future trips to Zambia and to actively participate in the One Seed project under the right circumstances.” Persons or groups interested in learning more can contact Jim Hazzard at Jim.Hazzard@southwestag.ca. or Jon Milos at Jon.Milos@lambtoncollege.ca
The next visit to Kasaka is scheduled for some time in the April/May 2014 time period.