Peanut butter – which one? Smooth or crunchy? There’s many there, including the Zambian natural peanut butters I like so much. I pick a smooth one, ‘It’s Wild’, which says “By buying this product you are supporting wildlife conservation and rural livelihoods in Zambia.”
I’ve spread my bread with ‘It’s Wild’ for some years now. But only recently did I find out what’s behind it. John Chongo, one of the small farmers we work with in Serenje, told me that he grew soybeans for COMACO, who also supplied him with a treadle pump for his market vegetable garden. Now I was curious. Who is COMACO? Community Markets for Conservation started in the Luangwa Valley, in Eastern Zambia. Home to Zambia’s two largest wildlife parks, the valley was being threatened by a host of environmental issues – slashing trees to burn charcoal and make new fields for cash strapped farmers, illegal trapping, fishing and hunting of wildlife. The same actions threatening the wildlife park were coming out of the threat of hunger and poverty of the people living in or near the parks. COMACO brought a unique solution to these problems.
COMACO trains producer groups in environmentally sustainable farming practices, especially conservation farming. Processing plants are set up for easily grown local crops, whose products (like my peanut butter) are sold on major super market shelves. COMACO, a not-for-profit organisation, pays a premium price for these crops, enabling local farmers to earn a sustainable living. Members must adhere to bylaws that prohibit practices that harm the environment, and adopt environmentally friendly agriculture production methods. Using conservation farming farmers no longer have to clear new land and risk conflict with wild animals. They can achieve food security and added income. They stop burning crop residues and begin to mulch the soil, preventing flood like runoff during the rainy season.
Farmers are encouraged to attend annual field days. Regular visits by extension officers help them solve problems, and ensure they aren’t engaged in poaching or illegal charcoal production. Farmers who consistently apply conservation farming practises get a ‘conservation dividend’ – a cash reward.
COMACO has a wide support base, including various NGOs and government agencies, local and foreign businesses. Besides Peanut Butter and peanuts as snacks, COMACO sells rice, dried bean products, honey, maize, and Yummy Soy, a Soybean/Maize porridge high in protein that can be blended hot or cold. All are available at Shoprite, one of Zambia’s largest supermarkets, and various other grocery stores. ‘It’s Wild’ has become a respected brand. My peanut butter bread tastes even better now!