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Loss of livestock to disease and drought and the land’s declining fertility are at the root of most narrators’ deepening poverty, exacerbated by the rising cost of tools, seeds and fertiliser.

All speak of a past when crops were varied and plentiful, and most say that with each successive government, agricultural productivity has declined along with infrastructure and support. The situation worsened significantly with foot and mouth disease, leaving very few animals to produce manure or plough the soil.

Gilbert, Dominic and Utrina trace the decline in agriculture in some detail.

describes the devastating impact of foot and mouth disease, saying that for some, “the disease completely wiped out their livestock.”

Mirriam says bluntly “We are not farmers any more because we have no seeds and the land is barren…” Her family’s situation worsened significantly when her father died and his family “took away all his property and left us with nothing”. Without cattle to manure and plough the land, it “is just wasting away”.

Edward links the decline to reduced government support for farmers, as well as changing practices and poor rainfall.


Agriculture is a key theme 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