Seeds of Hope—Natural Agriculture in Zambia

My name is Barbara Hachipuka Banda; I am a young farmer and activist from Zambia. In 2004 Shumei Japan bravely visited Zambia and this was the beginning of the Natural Agriculture revolution in Africa.

During Shumei’s visit they met a group of women called the Mbabala Women Farmers Cooperative Union. This was an organized group of 2000 small-scale rural women farmers that were sensitized, organized and registered into cooperative groups by my late mother Jessie Brenda Hachipuka. The purpose of mobilizing and organizing these women farmers was to empower and improve their household status and income using agriculture as a tool.

You see my mother had grown up and been raised in rural Zambia and she was a woman who knew what it meant to be a Zambian rural woman with the everyday struggle of being part of the household labor force. She knew what it meant to come from such humble beginnings but to end her journey with having educated 4 children abroad as well as being a supportive housewife and powerful force behind a political husband. Knowing this, she knew the important role that women needed to play in the development processes of their homes, community and country. After all, to educate a woman is to educate an entire community.

I was 20 years old when my mother died, a young adult, but a child all the same. So when the women of the cooperative came to ask my siblings and I to continue our mother’s work, we all gracefully declined because we all felt that we had more important things that we were doing with our lives. Little did I know that my mother’s spirit would guide me down the same path I was reluctant to follow.

In 2004 I became Zambia’s first female Youth Millennium Development Goal (MDG) advocate under the United Nations Development Program Youth Leadership summit, which was organized by UNDP in partnership with The Global Peace Initiative of Women (GPIW). The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were the 8 international development goals that were established following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000. All 189 United Nations member states, and at least 23 international organizations, committed to help achieve the MDGs by 2015.

The MDG youth series allowed me to meet hundreds of young people from all over the world. It was amazing, listening to us tell our stories, singing, laughing, and making our plans for the future. UNDP, GPIW and supporting partners like Shumei International, that had hosted the September 2004 Asia-Pacific Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, had created a platform for future Presidents, Prime Ministers and Nobel prize winners. They had created a unified voice for us to tell the world and our leaders that it was time for us make a long lasting and sustainable change.

When I left Japan I was armed with the information about Natural Agriculture and I was excited and optimistic about the partnership between Shumei and The Mbabala Women Farmers Cooperative Union. I wanted to give the rural women better lives, and their children a future. I understood and believed in the philosophy of Natural Agriculture and when I first met Shumei and visited Kishima island, a light lit up in my mind and my heart and I knew there and then that Natural Agriculture was the method and tool I was going to use to achieve the task set before me.

So when I went back to Mbabala to tell the women what I had learned during my visit to Kishima Island and during my Shumei family home stay, and this grand plan that I had to train them about Natural Agriculture and seed saving, I was truly terrified. What I saw at Kishima Island was a simple methodology of agriculture that could be and should be adopted everywhere else.
So if it was this simple then why was I afraid?

I was afraid because if you tell someone about Japan and you tell to them how Natural Agriculture works in Japan, the first thing they will do is laugh. They laugh because the two countries Japan and Zambia are worlds apart in so many ways you cannot even begin to count. Most of us Africans don’t look at the small things we tend to look at grand materialistic items, such as economy, power of currency, car manufacturers, the amount of technology that exists, and the fact that the movie The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise was filmed in Japan.

With this in mind, if you think about it from a Zambian perspective, the minds and hearts of the majority of Zambians, that are hardened by circumstance and poverty, struggling to make a dollar a day, unemployed and with a thousand responsibilities to feed and educate the many that live under their roof; Now you try and tell that man or woman that you have just come from 10 days in Japan and that you are here to train them about Natural Agriculture.

Do you think they would listen? All they wanted to know was; arms wide open and big smiles on their faces is; are these people from Japan going to bring us more cars and tractors and buy us fertilizers and seeds?

For the first few years of the project was drumming in the message of self-sustainability and simplifying the purpose of the project. I simplified and packaged my message to focus on our rural heritage of agriculture during my parents’ and grandparents’ time when fertilizers and hybrid seed literally did not exist, on the unaffordability of fertilizers and pesticides, and how it was important for the rural community to be self-reliant and not trapped under the boots of private sector companies looking to make quick money off people’s desperation.

Simply put, this was a call to ‘Return to the Source’; to return a simpler and more honest lifestyle such as we had in the distant past at the time of our ancestors. It was also a call to return to nature, the source of all life.

I focused on reminding farmers about a very present danger such as the continuous and unstable changing climate that was no longer reliable due to the ecological damage already caused by humanity. Our message was and still is that Natural Agriculture is the only way to survive and see the future.

Our message centered on the indigenous seed as a key component to crops adapting to climate change by creating stronger and more resilient root systems. It emphasized natural, healthier and tastier foods. We repackaged the Spiritual Philosophy of Natural agriculture to represent the hard work, determination, planning and management skills a farmer needs in order to guarantee yields. Last but not least we concentrated on the importance of community participation and going back to past teachings such as – “A problem shared is a problem halved!”

So a number of you annually have an opportunity to see pictures of Zambia and the progress that has taken place over the last 10 years. When I stand at the project today I have a sense of pride and accomplishment. Yes I am still always reminded of the many more years of hard work that still needs to go in the project and my sense of pride is short lived and I am snapped back to work and to reality.

So when people ask me about the challenges that I have faced, I always feel like laughing: There have been many, many challenges.
The first challenge was just being a young woman in Africa. I would call a cooperative meeting and a number of members would not be able to attend the meeting because their husbands felt it was a waste of time. The challenge was that Government, The Private Sector and Big International organizations were promoting fertilizer and hybrid seeds as the way of the future.

And there was little old me shouting at the top of my voice; which I lost a number of times by the way, and it became so horse that I would make a call and the person on the other side of the phone would be like – CAN I HELP YOU SIR? So yes with this loud voice, I would shout out NATURAL AGRICULTURE IS THE WAY OF THE FUTURE.

The lack of infrastructure that existed in the rural area was a challenge. A 300 mile drive would take us about 6 hours to complete because the road network was none existent and to add to all of that we had no meeting places and would most of the time meet under trees if the community halls were unavailable, which would bring about the problem and complication of going to the bathroom in the bush and my wild imagination and fears of snakes.

However the best part about challenges are those that leave you speechless, shocked and in complete disbelief. Times like when the building team in Mbabala purchased glass panes that did not fit the metal window frames so the hall had natural ventilation on all 48 windows. Times when the Pemba team did not know how to fit roofing ridges so the roof leaked during rain season and they thought that this was normal or the times when you see grown people fight like toddlers and you have to be the voice of reason, peacemaker and sounding board to all their problems.

I would have to add, that on the Top 10 list of challenges was trying to get the Government to support our program. In the last 10 years Zambia has had 4 Presidents, 2 of which died and in all this political change we would make headway and be recognized by a Minister or Deputy Minister and then one year down the line we would be back to the beginning because the Presidential change would also bring with it, an entirely New Cabinet and people.

Just recently during the opening of the Preschool event in Pemba we were visited by the District Education Officer, who made promises to provide us a qualified teacher and the support of the Ministry of Education. The worst part is that next year there are elections again ushering in the 5th President in 11 years and the DEO might no longer be in the position to help us. So back to the beginning we go.

So yes it is 10 years down the line and I am still standing and still pushing forward, I may have grown a few grey hairs that I keep well hidden under these braids and I definitely feel 5 years older than I should, but I take it all in my stride. There are a number of stories I can share with you about Zambia, but like those that have visited before will tell you, its hard to tell you about it, but it is better for you to see it and experience it for yourself.

I want to go back to the Theme of this anniversary, “Returning to the Source”.
In the last 10 years I have had many debates and discussions with a number of people that I would like to mention, because they have really left a huge dent on who I am today. Alan Sensei, who is my mentor, sounding board, and voice of reason, Matthew Crowley, who is my creative inspiration and guide, Kristina Mayo, who is my development expert and encyclopedia, Alice and Ron Cunningham, who’s advice and friendship I truly admire, Masahide Koyama, who is the first Shumei member to spend the most time in Zambia and truly experience the true horrors of medical care in the rural area and who’s company I cherish dearly.

We have had conversations about Africa and its beauty, the fresh air, the vast land and wide-open spaces, the beautiful sunrises and sunsets and the ability to still be able to star gaze at night without having to use a telescope. The beautiful colorful traditional clothes the women wear, the wide teeth filled smiles, the vibrant sound of singing, drumming and dancing. The tasty natural vegetables, roadrunner chickens that are harder than rubber and can pull your teeth out if not cooked well. 80% of our country, our culture and existence is natural. So why would we want to trade all that for over population, pollution and materialism, when at this point, in this day and age people that live in places like America, Japan and Europe and many more are craving what Zambia and the rest of Africa have at its finger tips?

In 1991, the Liberalization of the economy and the privatization of the Zambian mines and manufacturing industry not only brought easy access to all goods and services and exposed us as Zambians to the vast world out there, but it brought with it pieces and snippets of what a number of Africans would consider the good life. It brought with it shopping malls, cable television, Japan direct (used cars) and access to the outside world beyond the Zambian boarders, which increased our import industry

In 2010 when the newly refurbished two story Manda Hill shopping mall opened with its brand new escalator, people travelled from all parts, not to buy anything from all the new stores in the mall but just to have an opportunity to line up to take a ride up and down the escalator. It was amazing as you watched kids, parents, grandparents who had never seen a moving stairway cry as they refused to jump on the escalator. It was a momentous occasion for Zambia, one that will be written in the history books.

So when you ask why we want the American Dream and the fabulous celebrity lifestyle that we have seen on television? It is because as a continent we have not reached our peak point of development, we have not gone through an industrial revolution nor have we seen the effects and impacts of civil wars and because of this we are left yearning for more and to be just like you. You unfortunately as countries and individuals have achieved and seen the good side and the bad side of development. You have seen the increased pollution resulting in global warming, the manufacturing industry turn people into slaves, agriculture turn into a man-made industry instead of nature and children become obese, TV driven robots. So your experiences have led you to have simple desires “Returning to the Source” by being spiritually interconnected to nature and one another.

So as a person sitting on both sides of the fence, having had the opportunity to experience both worlds; I desire development for my country and for Africa but not at the cost of not having a future for this world. So while we are on our path of development I am a strong believer in learning from other peoples’ mistakes and creating a new strategy. I believe that our strategy must include nature, our ancestors, and our own hearts. I believe that the more we connect with these three sources the more we will create a beautiful, healthy, and sustainable world for our children and grandchildren.

I have been asked the question, why did I become a Shumei member? My answer is; I became a Shumei member because it made sense, its what I believe in and I have been practicing Shumei philosophy for the last 10 years even without realizing it. As a family my husband and I have been through a lot of losses and in those moments when my physical being and soul do not have the strength to keep fighting I have found comfort in my desire to learn more about Mokichi Okada and the history of Shumei Philosophy. All this is a journey that has just begun for me and I look forward to traveling down my inner path.

So on behalf of the women farmers of NADPZ, I want to thank you for the support that you have provided. Now that our Agricultural hubs are better established we hope that you will maybe take the opportunity to visit Zambia and volunteer to train farmers to develop a variety of skills that can increase their economic well being. We hope that you will continue to keep us in your thoughts and constant prayers because our spiritual connection and interconnectedness has the capacity to change this world.

Before I leave I would like to read you a poem that I wrote in 2014 about the life and struggles of a little Natural Agriculture seed.


I was the youngest and the smallest of a hundred or more siblings.
A guardian saved me and my siblings named me Seminulum, which means
Little seed.
I was taunted, laughed at and bullied at school by the popular H14 Seeds, the upgraded kids, and the kids who had it all.
They were manufactured to be strong
To withstand everything and anything
Their Destiny is to Save The World!
During my childhood I was surrounded by Darkness,
Told that I had no purpose, no reason to exist, because I was so small.
In all this darkness, there was a light
My light from within which could not be extinguished
There was a reason I was saved. I was kept awaiting my fate.
Now, what seems like a lifetime ago
I stand, strongly rooted to mother earth
Blessed with rays of light from the Sun
I look back on the hard years
The lives and deaths of my peers and
I stand firm in amazement of what I have survived.
The H14 Seeds, the tormenters, the ones ordained to rescue the world
The majority of them were lost during the first battle against the drought
They withered away from the scorching heat.
The others fell when the stormy winds swept through our fields.
Only a few remain looking weak and frail with no heritage to pass on
My siblings no longer call me Little Seed
They no longer tease me.
My large frame towers over them casting shadows on some of them.
I am rooted, the depth of my strength comes from that inner light that would not be snuffed as a little seed.
I have survived drought
Stood strong in the face of storms
Have struggled and succeeded the pest wars
Now I am big brother, father, mother, and provider
The fruit that I bare will nourish and fortify those that consume it.
My legacy will be carried forward in my little soldiers,
My little seeds!

For more about Natural Agriculture in Zambia, please visit NADPZ website.

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