Agriculture is the lifeblood of Zambia’s rich resource-based economy, contributing significantly to employment, economic growth, exports, poverty reduction, food security and nutrition. Agriculture also plays a critical role in ensuring sustainable use of natural resources.
Against this backdrop, a three year youth-focused project, dubbed the Zambian Youth for Conservation, Agriculture and Livelihood Action (ZYCALA) has just been launched in the Central Province districts of Chitambo, Serenje and Mkushi.
Zambia, in the heart of southern Africa, has a rich history of conservation and cultural heritage. Chitambo, in particular, nestled in the Central Zambezian Miombo woodlands, is the land where the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone passed away in 1873.
This deep historic connection between Chitambo and Scotland will be reactivated by the project, which is being jointly implemented by Gaia Education, the World-Wide Fund for Nature in Zambia (WWF Zambia), the Young Emerging Farmers Initiative (YEFI), and supported by funding from the Scottish Government.
The project aims to strengthen the capacities of young people in all three districts to become change agents through youth-led campaigning on social and environmental issues, sustainable income generation and organic food production.
The launch involved around 200 local youth leaders across the three districts. They were offered training and development support to identify the potential within the dynamic and complex community environment where they live, learn and work.
Rural youth, particularly women, explored through a series of participatory processes issues as diverse as scenario planning, collaborative communication, democratic decision-making and advocacy and leadership development.
A series of discussions invited the youth leaders to reflect on the current state of their villages, and the future they wanted to create. Through this process, they were able to identify interim measures that could serve as stepping stones towards longer term solutions.
These leaders will reach out to 150,000 young people throughout the lifespan of the project, passing on their knowledge on ecosystems regeneration and advocacy campaigns to others so that they too can raise awareness about the need for innovative social and natural systems management.
The empowered youth will work with households to increase food security through diversification, harnessing the abundance of nutritional farm produce and by promoting various community enterprises.
Beekeeping, vegetable conservation, fisheries, dried turmeric and native tree nurseries have been identified, amongst others, as great opportunities for youth-led income generation.
WWF Zambia’s acting country director, Dr Seif Hamisi, has expressed optimism about the project’s potential for success, saying that there cannot be true conservation without youth participation.;
He added: “In Zambia, like many other African countries, the youth form the bulk of the active population, thereby making it imperative that they are engaged in addressing their needs.”
He explained that this project would provide a platform for young people, creating sustainability, renewed energy and innovation, which is crucial for 21st century conservation delivery.
Meanwhile, young people in the districts have expressed enthusiasm about the project and the importance of being collectively engaged in finding local solutions to issues that their communities are faced with.
One such activist, Lillian Mulinda of Serenje district, commended the organisations involved in the project on spearheading leadership training among the young people.
She said: “I have learnt a lot about what it means to be a leader and how we as young people should lead initiatives such as conservation farming to redress generational cycles of poverty and malnutrition and create livelihood opportunities for ourselves”.
Speaking after the launch, YEFI executive director Matthew Ntabo said that his organisation is excited by the project’s aim to empower local young people in Central Province, who will become leaders and agents of change in their communities. He added: “YEFI believes that the future of agriculture belongs to the youth and sustainability (conservation farming) is a better practice that will promote good soils and healthy foods”.
The connection between ground, potential and goal has been activated by the engagement of the young farmers. Fresh food, regionally grown and free from chemical fertilisers and pesticides, have experienced significant growth in recent years in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. As consumer demand for locally-sourced organic foods increases, so the ability of ZYCALA members to influence the producers and regenerative food growing practices of their districts will also grow.
With the relevant technical support, ZYCALA members have the potential to make a unique and valuable contribution to the Central Province and to the future of agriculture of their country. In Zambia today, there are 4.8 million young people aged 15-35, representing more than a third of the population.
As the United Nations Population Fund in Zambia has said: “Zambia’s youth have the potential to be the innovators, creators, builders and leaders of sustainable development.” The young members of ZYCALA are the embodiment of this ambition.
May East, FRSA, MSc, chief executive Gaia Education.