Back ‘home’ in Zambia – organic farming

Green Boxes go out to 70 customers per week.

Green Boxes go out to 70 customers per week.

It’s been two years since I last visited Zambia. I stepped out the door of the plane, and my smile stretched from ear to ear. I was surprised myself at how very happy I was to be back. Those who live here all the time smile wryly. I know – life here is not all roses, like the ones lining the walk to the airport building. We’ve been immensely frustrated ourselves so often at the inefficiency of systems, the time it takes to get anything done, the bureaucratic hassles. But still, joy is the main emotion of the moment.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit Lilayi Farm, just south of Lusaka city. I went out to interview Alan Miller about the farming situation in Zambia, and ended up spending a wonderful hour with his partner, Annemieke Devos, who is growing and selling organic food.

Annemieke is passionate about her organic market garden.

Annemieke is passionate about her organic market garden.

When I came to the house, boxes filled the room off the kitchen, filled with all shades of green leafy vegetables, herbs and carrots. A large pail of orange cherry tomatoes waited to be distributed into the boxes. Annemieke grows two hectares of organic vegetables and herbs and some tomatoes. . Another organic farmer, Sebastian, grows carrots, pepper, eggplant, beets. It makes for a diverse box of vegetables – the Green Box, it is called. Annemieke has about 90 customers in all, 50-60 which regularly get a weekly box, another 20 which are quite regular. She also sells herbs and salad greens to local supermarkets. It all keeps her and ten employees very busy.

For many Zambians, just having food at all, and enough of it, is a challenge. But there is a growing number of Zambians that have more income to disposal. Annemieke tells me that most of these tend to eat at Fast Food restaurants, that it is a status symbol to do so. It was a sign of wealth to be ‘fat’, in fact, my friends will sometimes greet me, after being away some time, with “You look good, you have grown fatter”. That is a compliment here. But the overweight has its consequences. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and all the other modern medical issues are on the rise. Also on the rise is a great interest in learning to live and eat healthy. Annemieke’s Green Box fits right into that trend. When she started two years ago with the boxes, she had half the customers she does now.

For her, growing organic food is not just a way to make money (it’s still not a big money maker). She strongly believes in the importance of producing and eating healthy food. “You are what you eat”, she reminds me. She doesn’t just sell Green Boxes, she gives advice whenever she can, and offers recipes for healthy cooking by email to her customers. She is in the process of developing a facebook site. Click ‘like’ and you’ll get her updates, but don’t expect them right now; she’s still trying to make the time to get it going properly.

In a country where we Westerners hear more about hungry children and AIDS, it is good to hear that more and more people are having the means to purchase not just food, but good food – organic food.

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