How the Lifeplayer helps transform Zambian farmers’ incomes
Liaising between Lifeline Energy and COMACO (Community Markets for Conservation), I have been helping to coordinate a project to distribute over 100 Lifeplayer MP3s across seven districts in Zambia’s Eastern Province. COMACO has created an innovative and cost-effective model for linking poverty reduction to improved land use through conservation farm management. Although this provides a variety of extension support to over 140,000 farmers, it was immediately clear that communication and distance are distinct challenges facing COMACO and the communities they serve.
COMACO works with farmers to increase food security and preserve wildlife and their habitats across more than 77,000 square kilometers (the entire country of Belgium could fit into this area more than two times over!) and to cross just one district can take a full day. Most roads are dirt paths and to reach some villages just 30 minutes outside of a city center, drivers must navigate dangerous potholes and endure bone-jarring road conditions. Districts such as Chama and Lundazi receive poor radio and cell reception and if a farmer wants to connect with a COMACO employee, he or she must travel to specific reception areas. The Lifeplayer MP3 solves these challenges. With its capacity to easily hold over 60 hours of downloadable content, out-of-reach schools, workshops and trainings are brought right to farmers’ doorsteps. Its solar-powered battery and wind-up crank allow farmers to listen anytime, anywhere.
COMACO has created three education modules enabling farmers to learn more about farm cooperative leadership, conservation farming methods and income-generating activities. These modules will provide lead farmers with the tools to help communities diversify incomes and create food security. With the Lifeplayer MP3, isolated listening groups, comprising more than 2,000 farmers, can finally tap into the knowledge COMACO teaches, and listen to these lessons as many times as necessary.
I had the privilege of training farm cooperative leaders in the Chipata and Mambwe districts and they described to me just how detrimental isolation is for their communities. Zambian farmers are hesitant to try new approaches and view most change with suspicion until it can be demonstrated and proved successful. This demands face-to-face interaction, and leaders of cooperatives will spend days walking between villages to teach ecosystem conservation and better farming techniques. Bicycles are a luxury and no farmers own cars or even motorbikes.
For almost two decades COMACO has built trust within farming communities, so when a Lifeplayer MP3 begins to speak with a “COMACO Voice”, they trust the MP3 and its content. One cooperative leader, Alice, told me, “We really need these Lifeplayers. It’s hard to teach on our own. The COMACO Voice is a teacher too.” Distance and isolation are two fundamental challenges of a Zambian farmer’s daily life, but through partnership and innovation, Lifeline Energy and COMACO are taking significant steps to connect more communities and improve their members’ lives.