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Scenic images from the field

The Road to Mongu

Patrick C. Marti

Peace Corp Jamaica 2010–2012
Peace Corps Response Zambia 2012–2013

As the sounds and smells of Lusaka’s bustling Soweto Market slowly fade away, the realities of the journey ahead begin to set in. The vast expanses of farmland just west of Zambia’s capital city are only the beginning of a seemingly endless journey; the 560 km of road that is so flat and straight that the occasional speed bumps provide a welcomed break from the monotony of the horizon. A passage through Kafue National Park provides a brief respite, as herds of impala dot the roadside and baby warthogs splash in muddy waterholes. These images, however, seem long gone by the time we arrive in Mongu, the capital of Zambia’s underdeveloped Western Province. It is here, perched upon 30 meters of Kalahari sand, where the road abruptly ends, stymied by the infinite Zambezi flood plain that stretches like an ocean into the setting African sun. Knee deep in sand and overwhelmed by the scenery, it’s impossible not to feel like you are at the end of the world. In a lot of ways, you are.

The Road to Mongu has grown to mean a number of things to me during my time in Zambia, but to the 6,000 plus small-scale farmers I am working with in my capacity as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer, it symbolizes so much more. It represents a lack of the technical skills needed to process and add value to their produce, a limited engagement from potential partners in both the public and private sectors, and a significant inability to access markets that would provide them with a reasonable return for their painstaking labor. For farmers in Western Province, the Road to Mongu is intimidating, but slowly we are working together to make the journey a little less daunting.

When I first traveled the Road to Mongu, the taste of jerk chicken and the sounds of Peter Tosh were still fresh in my mind. Having just completed my service in a coastal fishing and farming village in Jamaica, I was invigorated by the idea that with the right balance of patience and perseverance it was indeed possible to transcend cultural divides and enrich each other’s lives. In the land of Bob Marley and breadfruit trees I had worked with farmers in my community to form a cooperative, adopt sustainable farming methods, add value and improve food security through agro-processing, and engage stakeholders through the establishment of partnerships. Days were long and progress was slow, but by the end of my two years we had moved a few steps in the right direction – together.

As a Peace Corps Response Volunteer, I now have the opportunity to apply the lessons I learned in Jamaica at a much larger scale. In my capacity as an Agri-Business Specialist working in partnership with Concern Worldwide, I am supporting three District Farmers Associations in Western Province. In Jamaica, I worked with one community farmers group with 30 farmers; today, I support organizations representing 88 community farmers groups with over 6,000 farmers. In Jamaica, the trainings I facilitated directly impacted 10-12 farmers; today, I provide training to service providers that will eventually share the knowledge with hundreds of others. In Jamaica, I linked farmers to the local market; today, I am linking farmers to national and international markets.

Most recently, I partnered with one of Zambia’s largest food processing companies to provide training in food preservation to 40 staff, members, and stakeholders of two of the District Farmers Associations. The skills learned will serve the dual purpose of improving food security by increasing the shelf life of produce while also allowing farmers to process their produce for the commercial market. Each participant will serve as a trainer within their respective organizations and communities; over three thousand farmers will have access to the knowledge shared. Perhaps more importantly, by securing partnership agreements between the District Farmers Associations and the company, over 6,000 isolated farmers, have suddenly gained access to national and international markets.

The Road to Mongu is long and intimidating, but step by step we’re making it a little less challenging - together. My experience in Zambia is much different than my time in Jamaica, but while the scope of the work has changed the principles of Peace Corps service remain the same. I continue to learn and receive much more than I can teach and give, I’m still greeted with a warm smile every time I say hello in the local language, and I continue to form relationships that genuinely transcend any cultural divide. More than anything, I continue to be reminded of the inherent good in people, the value of cross-cultural experiences, and the fact that we can work together to make the world a better place.

Last updated Jul 15 2014

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