Lusaka — Born in a small town of Mufulira, on the Copper Belt province of Zambia in 1960, Winnie Nachivula, is making a mark in the cassava production in Zambia which currently stands at over 1 million metric tonnes per year, making it the most important crop grown in Zambia after maize.
Cassava is grown by 35 percent of the small-scale farmers in Zambia, contributing to 38% of Zambia's total human consumption requirements. It is a staple food for at least 30% of the population and a source of energy, proteins and vitamins A, B1, B2 and C.
Winnie who got her Physiotherapy diploma from Zambia 's Evelyn Hone College in 1982 and worked for government until 1988, now prides in not only farming cassava but adding value to the crop which is viewed by most urban Zambians as "food from the street".
She found her desire to venture into, marketing, processing, packaging and supplying of local Zambian foods after she came back from the United Kingdom where she had worked from 2002 to 2012.
With an initial capital of 20 thousand Kwacha (about 2 thousand united states dollars), Winnie started growing her passion which she brands "Nazya foods". One of the major foods that have advanced her brand is cassava.
She is now among the few that have penetrated the cassava market in Zambia and has engaged other women from different parts of the country to grow the crop. These women then then sell her both the leaves and the tuber which she supplies to one of the chain stores in Zambia.
Winnie says every two weeks she supplies 20 bags of 50 kilograms each of cassava flour and 300 bags of 400 grams each of cassava leaves to Game stores in Lusaka. In addition, she also has a contract to supply 200 kilograms of cassava floor across five Pick and Pay stores on a weekly basis in Lusaka.
"Even though I have a turnover of at least 193 thousand Kwacha every month (about 19 000 USD), I regret that accessing funding to expand my business is a challenge. I have never accessed any form of funding because of the conditionality tied to borrowing money," she says.
She is proud that she has managed to bring a product viewed as "street food" to shops for middle class people. She however, feels she still needs to improve the packaging and presentation of the product.
"My dream is to run a purely local Zambian food store and also create a window for export. I know that by doing so, I will be empowering more women farmers and also creating employment for many youths at the same time contributing to food security in the country."
Winnie is not the only one passionate about exploring the "gold" that cassava can offer.
She is happy to be among 150 women who have since been trained in cassava seed multiplication at the Mount Makalu Research Center in Lusaka by the Zambia Federation of Association of women in Business (ZFAWIB). The association has seen the need to train the women in cassava growing so that they tap into the value chain opportunities that the crop presents.
ZFAWIB Chief Executive Officer, Maureen Sumbwe, says women want to contribute to the commercialization of cassava as a cash crop which is why they have decided to work closely with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) through the Federation of National Association of Women in Business in Eastern and Southern Africa (FEMCOM).
COMESA launched the cassava cluster programme in 2011 to enhance economic growth in the region and promote value addition. The programme is currently being implemented in at least seven countries.
Ms. Sumbwe says more women are earmarked for training throughout the country, noting that from 150 women that have been trained in cassava seed growing between November 2016 and January 2017, 20 were drawn from Kitwe on the Copper Belt while the rest were from Lusaka.
"The training of the 150 women makes ZFAWIB have the largest number of certified cassava seed growers in the country. The target is to recruit at least 24 thousand women every year for the next three years," notes Ms. Sumbwe.
Ms. Sumbwe says apart from acquiring skills and knowledge on cassava seed growing, ZFAWIB has spent 30 thousand Kwacha on buying seed from Chitambo district in Central province which has been planted on a 12-hectare piece of land for the 2016 -2017 farming season. She has explained that once the target of training women has been met and seed has been multiplied, it will be easy to explore the full value chain and feed into the industry
"The initiative will not only address issues of food security but will also empower women and create employment while in the long term meet the demand for cassava products in the country through a well-established value chain," says Ms. Sumbwe.
Senior Research fellow at the Zambia Institute for Policy Research and Analysis Ceaser Cheelo states that local cassava farmers, who are mostly women, have to step up and produce in mass if they are to realize the value chain dream.
"Cassava flour importation has the potential to depress local farmers noting that production was significantly larger than the national requirement between 2004 and 2013 but reduced over 2014 to 2016," says Mr. Cheelo.
This local depression could be attributed to the country's sadden increase in its total cassava imports from around USD 2,700 in 2012 to USD 41,000 in 2013.
Ministry of Commerce Permanent Secretary Ms. Kayula Siame, says government is committed to ensuring food security and diversification of the country's exports and it is through initiatives such as the cassava value chain that this will be achieved.
"The Zambia government through the Citizens Economic Empowerment Commission in 2017 lunched a programme worth K8 million aimed at supporting women and youth in the cassava value chain while a further 1.2 million USD will be given out as loans to stakeholders in the Cassava value chain", Ms. Siame says.
She explains that one of the objectives under the cassava value chain project is to increase income for farmers and rural employment.
"The CEEC is implementing the skills development and entrepreneurship project. The goal is to contribute to job creation, promotion of gender equality and poverty reduction supporting in particular women and youth. Over 17 000 direct jobs are expected to be created under the cassava value chain," notes Ms. Siame.
According to research done by the Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute in 2014 dubbed "opportunities and challenges of the Cassava sector in Zambia", low cassava yield at farm level, and the low use of improved varieties among farmers, coupled with lack of a well-developed market for the crop, are among the major challenges in cassava production.