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A song of the strong

The first ingredient, maize, takes us to Zambia to meet farmer Joyce Kayaya. As she tells Mary Namakando, in her view the country's food problems have a simple cause. The harsh demands of the global market seem a world away.

 The day is quite warm for winter, brightening our hopes for what is in store. We are not disappointed. It is show time for local farmers at Chipapa, about 45 kilometres south of  Lusaka, Zambia's capital. Joyce Kainguluka Kayaya, 50, is here exhibiting her maize. She emerges from the enclosure dressed in her Sunday best - not quite the picture of a typical Zambian farmer in her frilled white blouse and her blue skirt complemented by a floral chitenge (wrap).

Fully 85 per cent of Zambia's farmers work, like Joyce, on a very small scale. Yet they contribute over 60 per cent of the country's maize production. We travel back to Joyce's  myumba  (homestead) and as we sit in the sun she tells me her story.

'I used to grow just maize to feed my family,' she explains, speaking softly in Chinyanja, the only language we have in common - Joyce's usual language is that of her southern Zambian Soli people. 'But in 1984 I decided to ask for a loan from the credit union. They gave me it and I managed to sell a hundred 90-kilogram bags - and repaid the loan.

'So I went on and in 1987 I became a contact farmer under Global 2000' (the organisation run by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter) 'to help improve my farming methods. Others come to me and learn what I have been taught.' She has diversified to make better use of the rains, growing cabbage and other vegetables as well as her maize.

Resourcefulness and planning are second nature to Mrs KKayaya. They have to be. She now has 20 hectares under cultivation but, in common with most small farmers in the country, she does not hold title deeds to her land. It is ancestral land, lying in the area of local chief Nkomeshya.

Despite Joyce's labour and that of many small farmers like her, Zambia still had to import 13,000 tonnes of maize this year from neighbouring Zimbabwe to tide it over the lean month before harvest. And the country needs at least 50,000 tonnes more between now and the next marketing season.

Zambia can ill afford to import maize. Its economy is in tatters. Like many other developing countries it has suffered from a dependence on one commodity - in this case copper, whose price has fallen over the years. The punitive oil price hikes the 1970s made things worse, particularly for internal transport. The country now has a foreign debt of seven billion dollars (November 1991) which has forced it to swallow its pride and turn to the International Monetry Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
But at another cost. For the stringent measures prescribed by the two institutions to breathe life into the economy included withdrawing the subsidies on maize (mealie) meal in 1986. This sparked off food riots across the country. In 1990 at least 14 people were killed in two further days of rioting as thousands of enraged Lusaka residents protested against higher mealie meal prices.
How does all this affect Joyce Kayaya, a small farmer in the countryside? Her response to the food riots emerges out of her own experience, in which hard work on the land results directly in food.
'I cannot understand how some people can be starving when they are able-bodied. I have learned so much from sheer determination and I therefore do not understand how people can go hungry in this country. Someone somewhere is not doing their job. It is sheer laziness, no two ways about it.' And to underline her point, Joyce breaks into song, accompanied by her husband, about a ulesi - lazy - person who never wanted to work.
When other people were busy cultivating their fields,' sings Joyce, 'this lazy person would climb the tree and go to sleep. Come harvest time he would start begging from others and they would taunt him and say, "See these sweet potatoes, maize, cane and ground nuts - we will not give you any!" And the lazy person would regret his actions because he would starve.'
The food riots we heard about in the towns were simply a result of laziness, laziness in the sense that if there are so many other people like me who produce so much maize, why is there such a shortage that the Government has to buy from other countries?' And Joyce has hit on a question     that most Zambians ask themselves.
It is indeed puzzling that each year there are the same problems of maize haulage, lack of funds to pay the truckers or no money to pay the farmers. Once the maize is sent to the depots, there is often a lack of tarpaulins to cover it so that when the rains come it rots. Then the Government is forced to scout  for funds so that it can import maize - which means more debt.
Hunger has touched Joyce's own family. 'I am presently looking after a litttle niece whom I saved from starvation at her mother's home in another village. The little girl had a very serious case of malnutrition and would have died.
'To think there are several such cases all around 
Zambia is very sad indeed. We have so much land which we should use for food.' She feels strongly  that people should not go to the cities unless they
have a job there and can provide for thtemselves. Otherwise she believes people should stay in the countryside and grow what they need to eat, as she does.
'All I know is that since 1965 I have been up at five o'clock every day, six days a week, to cultivate my fields,' she smiles.
That was a very special year for Joyce. 1965 was the



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That was a very special year for Joyce. 1965 was the year after Zambia gained its independence from the British. And it was the year her husband Patson lost his independence: he went blind.
'At that time we had five children; the oldest was only seven and the youngest a baby. There was nothing for me to do except take full responsibility for cultivating our land.'
Mr Kayaya, blind as he was, made himself useful by making bricks for sale to try and help Joyce raise money. 'The bricks were used were used for making what we call matina (brick houses). And in the end we  raised enough money to buy two oxen to help with the ploughing and to pay for uniforms and schoolbooks for the children.
'In those days I used to do all the farming myself. I even learned to hitch the plough to the oxen and then plough the field with my fifth child strapped to my back.
'Apart from that I would go back to the house to cook lunch  for Patson and then get back to the field.' Joyce still does the cooking. The family diet consists mainly of nshima, a hard maize meal porridge, eaten with rainfed vegetables like rape, cabbage, okra, cassava leaves or mushrooms. Sometimes they buy beef or goat meat, or slaughter a chicken to add to the meal - they reserve their cattle for weddings and funerals.
Joyce sometimes makes a drink called chibwantu which is made from crushed maize or samp and the roots of a common tree. 'Chibwantu is a filling drink,' she explains. 'It is a pity I have not prepared some today,' she adds with a grin, 'or you would have had some.'
Taking a sip of water instead, Joyce talks about her children and her eyes soften. She has nine children but has had 13 pregnancies. She miscarried once but has also lost three children as babies. During all those pregnancies this soft-spoken, diminutive woman never failed to provide for her family. Through the trauma of her husband's loss of sight she kept struggling to make life better for them all.
'My children are very independent. When they come and visit me they bring me a few presents and do not ask me for money. I only help them when they have a problem but I am happy that they can look after themselves and their families. I have my 25-year-old boy - Obed - who helps me with the farming.' The Kayaya matina house is perched on a hill and

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