Improving food security and holistic health in rural Zambia
November 2, 2017
In Zambia, most people are farmers, regardless of whether they have another profession — and this includes pastors. For the majority, the thought of zinja, or hunger season, is never far away. Many people in Zambia are smallholder, or subsistence, farmers who grow the staple crop, maize (corn), with which the mainstay of the Zambian diet, nshima, is prepared.
Zambia has one of the highest rates of undernourished people in the world — 48 percent, according to the United Nations. Sixty percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
Zambia has two seasons, rainy season and dry season. Since there is little access to irrigation for Zambian farmers, planting coincides with the onset of rainy season, which typically begins in early December. A good maize crop requires a lot of rain and has a lengthy growing season. When harvest time arrives, farmers are hopeful they will have enough maize to get their family through the year until the next season’s harvest, as well as some to sell to pay for school fees, medical care and other family needs. In many cases when there is too little or too much rain, the crop’s yield isn’t sufficient to last an entire year.
In Eastern Province, where my wife, Melissa, and I live, hunger season typically occurs in January and February, when maize stored from the previous crop is gone and the next harvest is still about four months away. There are also hungry families in the heart of the rainy season, when the incidence of malaria is more prevalent. The lack of proper nutrition during this time makes malaria a more serious threat.
We arrived in Lundazi, Zambia, in April 2016 to work alongside the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian Synod of Zambia (CCAP Zambia), a PC(USA) partner church. CCAP Zambia has a long history of holistic ministry in the areas of agriculture, health care and education. I serve as development specialist in support of the Chasefu Model Farm and teach courses in sustainable agriculture for students at Chasefu Theological College (CTC).
A Zambian pastor’s congregation may include several prayer houses, requiring significant travel to preach and conduct pastoral visitation. Many pastors serve in remote, rural areas, where the poverty level is high and the congregation struggles to pay their pastor’s salary. In addition to their church-related duties, pastors must farm to meet the food needs of their families. With the addition of agricultural courses at CTC, it is hoped the pastors will be better equipped to succeed in their farming efforts and to share their knowledge with their congregations and villages.
My work at Chasefu isn’t limited to teaching, however. I also serve in a support capacity to the Rev. Mapopa Nyirongo, acting coordinator of Chasefu Model Farm. The farm provides practical learning opportunities for seminary students. CCAP Zambia intends for the model farm to be developed into a training center where smallholders can learn new methods in sustainable agriculture, crop rotation, intercropping and the use of appropriate technology to facilitate their work and reduce labor. Another goal is to introduce alternative crops with high nutritional value.
I also work to facilitate the farming activities of the Chasefu Agricultural Income Generating Activity (AIGA). The purpose of the AIGA is to generate revenue to supplement the financial needs of the seminary and Chasefu Model Farm. Because of this role, the AIGA’s focus is on raising groundnuts (peanuts), soybeans and other cash crops. Because of government price controls in Zambia, maize isn’t considered a cash crop.
Melissa facilitates health education programs offered by the CCAP Zambia Health Department. She has many areas of focus, including working with Richard Willima, coordinator of the health department, to increase the capacity of two CCAP Zambia Rural Health Centers, working toward construction of a new Rural Health Center in Pharaza and creating educational opportunities that will improve the health of the Zambian people through prevention of diarrheal diseases, malaria and rubella. She’s looking forward to completing training in Community Health Evangelism, a Christ-centered program that integrates evangelism and discipleship with community health and development.
Improved nutrition is an area where my work and Melissa’s overlap. Good nutrition is essential to good overall health and the ability to recover from diseases such as malaria. Nutrition is also vital to maternal and child health, a priority for CCAP Zambia. Egichikeni Rural Health Center provides a variety of services to the more than 7,000 people in their catchment area. These services include basic health care, maternal and child health care, family planning, HIV/AIDS testing and counseling. Clinic officers assist in providing cooking demonstrations and establishment of community gardens. The goal of these activities is to improve nutrition at the village level by improving the availability of foods and to encourage the acceptance of protein and nutrient-dense foods that are not commonly grown or eaten. We are making progress in overcoming many challenges as we work with CCAP Zambia to improve the lives of those we serve.
Charles Johnson, mission co-worker serving at the invitation of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian Synod of Zambia, development specialist and instructor at Chasefu Theological College and Model Farm
This article is from the Fall 2017 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, which is printed and mailed free to subscribers’ homes within the U.S. three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission. To subscribe, visit pcusa.org/missioncrossroads.
Today’s Focus: Chasefu
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PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Loving God, thank you for sending your Son, who laid aside heavenly comfort to take on human flesh and live for others, even giving himself on the cross for the salvation of all people. Give me the chance today to set aside my own comfort for another’s good, and strengthen my heart to respond to your call. Amen.