While women are the most seriously affected by the deterioration of the environment, Rita Hamusokwe, 62, is showing that women can become effective agents of change for protection and stewardship of the earth if they are provided with knowledge and opportunity.
Studies have shown that “climate change contributes to loss of natural resources and leads to conditions that undermine food and water security. If water and food security intensify as a result of climate change women will bear the brunt of the additional time it will take to acquire drinking water.”
Rita, a mother, grandmother, “teacher” – you mention it is a very determined and passionate farmer. Rita’s love is not just about farming, but ensuring sustainability of soil fertility and maintaining nature.
“Organic farming is good compared to other forms of farming. You don’t lose anything. At the moment, I have plenty of maize even though I didn’t apply fertilizer,” she says.
Rita has opted to stay outside the shopping district of Chongwe town – a rural outpost situated 40 kilometres east of the Zambia capital city – Lusaka. She says she feared that her children might have ended up wandering in the streets if she had continued staying in town.
“Here we don’t need a lot of money to buy basic needs. All you need is the strength to till the land so that you can have food for the family,” she says.
Rita says her determination stems from the inner belief that the most important ingredient for success is to work without respite and to believe in one’s potential to win the challenge. As a female farmer, she encountered several challenges, such as the state of the impoverished soil. Furthermore, the area had suffered a long drought spell which characterized the country in the 1990s. Despite all these challenges, she persevered.
“When I came here, I used to rely on artificial fertilizer. This kind of farming gave me a lot of problems,” she says.
She adds that in the first season, she had a bumper harvest. The second harvest went down and in the later years, she began experiencing bad harvests. In 2001, she turned her attention to organic agriculture with the support of Kasisi Agriculture Training Centre – a local Catholic training institute supporting small scale farmers.
“When I went for the organic farming course at Kasisi, I learnt how to use composite manure. The course was good. I found it helpful because I spend literally nothing on inputs.”
Kasisi Agriculture Training Centre was started in 1972 by a Canadian Jesuit brother Paul Desmarais. The course started as a family training programme. Husbands, wives and their children would stay at Kasisi for two years, learning all types of agricultural methods. Professor Roland Lesseps is a Jesuit priest who has spent many years training small-scale farmers in organic agriculture. Jesuits are a religious order of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church
“…the method that was being used was what we call conventional agriculture. In the late 1980s, Kasisi switched completely to organic farming… so that we encourage our farmers to use all kinds of natural methods to keep the soil fertile and to control pests.”
Austain Chilala, an extension officer from Kasisi notes that the principle of organic agriculture is working with nature instead of working against nature.
“Sustainable Agriculture looks at the whole system – from integration of trees to integration of animals, integration of crops and then you put them together to make the whole system complete.”
Rita is convinced that if she had not ventured into organic farming, she would have endured the kind of life that most rural women go through in Zambia. She says that most women in remote areas often carry the burden of hunger, disease and suffering.
“Women bear witness to extreme poverty. They are often left to fend for themselves. Despite all the hardships, their concerns often go unheard as they are systematically excluded from owning property – whether it is land, a business or even their own children,” she adds.
Organic farming has worked miracles to Rita’s family. She is an embodiment of a successful woman in the middle of adversity. She has survived the harshness of rural life. With the training she received from Kasisi, she has managed to find solutions to the ever increasing problems of rural life.
“Farming was very difficulty. Ever since I did a course at Kasisi, I don’t even have to get a loan for farming inputs,” Rita says with a beaming face.
“As a widow I grow different kinds of crops such as maize, groundnuts, velvet beans, cow peas… Every year I grow about ten different crops, she adds”
Rita’s farm is a never short of visitors trooping in to witness the marvel of sustainable Agriculture and how it has transformed her life.
“Rita is our role model. We are not ashamed to come here and learn from her. She is our ambassador,” says 58 year old Lucy Muchokwe, a neighbour who is visiting.
Austain Chilala who has been mentoring Rita’s describes her as “a good teacher” within her community.
“She is been able to gather other women around to teach them about organic farming… She makes us proud. She is not only interested in farming but mindful of the damages that other forms of agriculture can bring to the soil in the long run.”
By Charles Mafa
Charles Mafa has been a working journalist since 1999, having entered the fray of broadcast media when he volunteered to co-present a weekly Sports Programme on Zambia’s national Radio Station in the Lozi local language.
Awards: 2007 Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) award for the best HIV/AIDS reporting.