In 1998, a group of final-year students in the School of Agriculture at the University of Zambia launched a new organization to help future farmers—and particularly women—adjust to the changing political and economic climate in their country. The mission of the Potential Agribusiness Association of Zambia (PAAZ) is to promote agriculture as a business, rather than just a way of life among small-scale or traditional farmers. The organization provides training in entrepreneurship and use of the Internet to women and youth whose livelihoods depend entirely on farming.
At the university, the founders of PAAZ had studied the decline of agricultural productivity since the liberalization of the Zambian economy in 1992, which meant that the government would no longer set prices for farmers and would withdraw completely from agricultural marketing. It also meant that the government would withdraw subsidies and credit for the production of the major traditional crop—maize. As a result, 90 percent of the farmers, who were solely dependent on maize production, would now need to learn how to source their own inputs, price their produce, and identify markets, if they were to stay in business. Since then, poverty levels in rural households and rural urban drift have been on the increase.
It is against this background that PAAZ was formed with the following objectives:
- Establish a nerve center for marketing and production information on alternative agricultural enterprises, suitable for small-scale farming.
- Train the resource-poor farmers in enterprise management and entrepreneurship skills.
- Link the farmers to micro-financing institutions, out-grower schemes, and agribusiness companies.
These are PAAZ’s achievements so far:
- In 1998–99, PAAZ successfully carried out a feasibility study on potential agricultural alternatives to maize production. These enterprises were promoted among farmers through field demonstrations and seminars in four districts.
- Information centers were created in two districts, equipped with Internet access, telephones, and faxes, where farmers come to find out prevailing market prices and/or any marketing opportunities.
- Ten youth and women cooperative shops were formed in the Lusaka and Chibombo districts.
- The quarterly farmer’s newsletter was published in a variety of local languages.
- PAAZ’s membership continues to build, and includes 2,000 youth and women farmers.
Originally published on January 1, 2003