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Grandwell: sustained support

After leaving school, Grandwell spent nearly a decade moving between his village and Zambia’s mineral-rich copperbelt area, trying to earn a living. On marrying in 1995 he moved again, and has recently been appointed village headman despite being”someone who has no cattle”.

Grandwell is critical of donor agencies, saying that although they do some good things, they don’t sustain their support: “it’s like they lose concentration.”

He has mixed feelings about government support. For example, he feels that extension workers proved their worth in the past. But he complains that state assistance is difficult to obtain:” The problem is the conditions attached to the applications – they ask you to look for papers, but being here in the village, where do we get these papers?”

I am someone who has no cattle… I only plant crops to feed my family. I have never grown [enough] crops to sell because I don’t have cattle or tools to farm with… I have cultivated some plants such as mango, banana and cassava.

The banana plants have started producing fruit, so in the morning I make sure that they are not disturbed [by thieves]. After checking the plants, that’s when I can think of doing other jobs… What I do to get income is repair bicycles and [also] carpentry…

Decline of farming linked to livestock

People used to produce maize in hundreds [of gallon containers]. That time we didn’t have the problem of fertiliser…people used manure from the cattle kraal (animal enclosure) and applied it to their fields…

When the epidemic of corridor disease (foot and mouth) spread to this area, all the animals were affected; about five to six animals died each day. [The] time came when even our local kraals were closed. A lot of people’s animals died in Kanchomba where I used to live, but where I live now – in Munyona – some have them, others haven’t. [For some] the disease completely wiped out their livestock.

We value cattle and it’s our wealth. It’s difficult for us to sell our animals to buy drugs [to treat the others]. Just like if I had a hundred chickens, in the case of an outbreak of disease, we couldn’t sacrifice even one to buy drugs… [And when] taking our cattle for dipping, we thought it was just a game, not knowing it was a preventive measure against disease…

Lack of farming inputs

These days without cattle [for manure and ploughing]…you cannot manage to produce food. The land is very hard to dig by hand. Even if one does plant crops by hand, the harvest will still be small… Now the government is telling us to pay 50 per cent [of the cost] for fertiliser…[that] is about 200,000- 400,000 Kwacha. Where can one get all that money, when you didn’t harvest anything the previous season?

[Also] government fertiliser is always delivered late….when the maize reaches the stage when the fertiliser should already have been applied. You will find the basal fertiliser, which should have been applied for crop germination, comes together with the top fertiliser, when the maize has already started producing the stalk… There was a time when we had loans of seed [but] we were given the seed very late [too]…

The government have promised to give cattle to the people, but one surprising thing is that cattle are being given to those who already have some, whereas there are people who don’t have any. It is like those who are already rich shall remain rich.

The need to change and adapt

Here in the Southern province growing maize has become almost impossible…the land has lost its fertility and the other problem is that we don’t practise crop rotation, which can enrich the land… It is better for us to change the type of crop we grow. Those who have cattle, they can still grow maize… [and] start planting sweet potatoes…

We should also concentrate on planting cassava, which is a good type of crop and it can grow well after weeding, without applying any form of fertiliser… I have planted this crop, which enables me to feed my family.
Support and assistance

[The Agricultural Support Project extension workers] teach us pot-holing methods, which are not destructive to the soil. The only problem is the lack of fertiliser… If you have kraal manure you can still put [it] in those holes. Their teaching is very useful. It has really helped us a lot, and when they came they were giving us seeds.

The other group that helped us were the Zambia National Farmers’ Union… The first year of coming here they gave us fertiliser, seeds, and groundnut. That year was good, their idea was good. The problem with donors is when they care, they work; [but then] it’s like they lose concentration… [But we should] use the knowledge which they have taught us so that what we have started should not just end there.

Education and the search for work

I started primary school in 1975… I didn’t know the importance of school then, so whenever I reached a higher grade I used to repeat it so that I did not [move school and] leave behind the friends with whom I used to play…In 1986 I qualified for Grade 8 at Jembo High School… In 1987 I stopped when I failed Grade 9 examinations.

During that time I had problems at home. My father had nothing, due to the fact that his animals had died and this made it difficult for him to support…my education… [So] in 1988 I went to the Copper Belt to look for employment… [and worked] for a white man…

Then I went back to the village [where] life became very difficult. I decided to go back to the Copper Belt [and] started working for BP. It was not long – just a few months – before I left my job. The problem was that the manager wanted me to work on Saturday instead of Sunday. I used to worship on Saturday…

[Some years later] I went back into the towns in search of employment, which was very difficult due to my eye problems. I could not see someone at a distance, it was as if they were two…I could not get employment because of my eyesight.

[Employment for young people?] They can venture into agriculture through vegetable gardening…others find survival by selling fish, but life is hard…what has helped [women] is the making of baskets. They have a lot of money, more than their husbands.

If [only] the government would not set conditions on its loans or assistance… The problem is the conditions attached to the applications – they ask you to look for papers, but being here in the village, where do we get these papers?

Different rules

The life we used to live [as children] is absolutely different from life nowadays…we used to herd cattle, hunt animals such as rabbits, just like any other Tonga. We used to do all these things and to make things from soil, clay or mud that looked like cattle and we made them fight like real animals…

During my early years…[we also used to] fight one another…[It] wasn’t regarded as a crime -even in a case of injury, the matter wouldn’t be taken to court. Fights were everyday affairs, when we knocked off school. Parents weren’t mostly aware of this… These days when you have injured your friend, it will be fortunate for him. You will be summoned to court where you will be required to pay the victim.

Being village headman

[I became headman] this year (2005)… As headman I started representing the people in meetings and afterwards I tell the village what we have shared at the meeting… I balance myself according to the allotted time, to the ages of the people I am with. When I am with the youth I behave like them, and when I am with the old men who use sticks to walk, I behave like them…

Now in the village, I have 40 households with about 10 people per household, they are many and they have just one borehole – which has no water… Our area will run out of water by August. Where we will find water by that time, we don’t know.

Severe food shortages

I don’t have any grain from last season because you cannot produce food without fertiliser, and what I have this year is very little. Those who have cattle for farming have managed to get something. The majority only harvested 20 kg in my area; there will be a food shortage by August.

The only stocks we have are because some people were given food for the sick: wheat and beans which are eaten as breakfast and lunch. The only time they eat nshima (a kind of porridge made from finely ground maize meal) is at supper.

They promised to give us food for work – making roads – but the work is very bad. We just work because of hunger. If they stop giving us food, there will be a lot of hunger because this area has absolutely no food. [And] there are some who live alone and are not able to work, the old and the lame. Our only hope is that the government will save us…

This interview has been specially edited for the web and cut down by more than half. Some re-ordering has taken place: square brackets indicate’inserted’ text for clarification; round brackets are translations / interpretations; and dots indicate cuts in the text. The primary aim has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview, while losing questions, repetition, and confusing or overlapping sections.


Grandwell: sustained support is produced as part of the Living with poverty: Zambia oral testimony project.


Anna: strong and hardworking

Benson: people need jobs

Dominic: valuing tradition

Edward: anxiety of poverty

Gilbert: cattle is wealth

Grandwell: sustained support

Mirriam: dedicated to others

Ruth: a mother’s struggle

Sara: coping without family

Utrina: working the land

Warren: the HIV burden

Grace: an open approach

Key themes

Introduction to the project


Food security


Water and drought


Survival strategies

Self-help and community support


Loans and debt

Political representation

The cycle of poverty