When 22-year old Clifford Siamatika completed high school two years ago, it was an important milestone for his proud mother Lillian. “I want all of my children to finish school,” she says.
“Clifford graduated, his brother Ivan will finish in 2014, and their sister will follow in a few years.” She is optimistic that all their children will graduate, achieving something that eluded both Lillian and her husband Ken.
Lillian and Ken both left school at an early age to help their own families. They moved to Siamatika on the shores of Zambia’s Lake Kariba when they married and started their own family more than 20 years ago. It was something of a spiritual home-coming for Ken to return to a district named after his own paternal grandfather, and the hard-working couple set about tending the small farm they have since extended to an expansive 20 acres, more than a quarter of which is used to grow vegetables.
They produce and sell tomato, okra, eggplant (aubergine), onions and other vegetables on irrigated plots close to their home, and sell stock both to local traders and to a number of tourism and fishing lodges dotted along the lakeshore.
As ‘lead farmers’ working with Self Help Africa’s local partner, Harvest Help Zambia, their farm is used as a demonstration plot to promote new farming practices. Ken and Lillian also act as mentors and advisors to almost a dozen other farm families working with Harvest Help in the locality.
Seven years ago they received a diesel pump from Harvest Help to draw water to their vegetable plots. The engine cost nearly €700, but they have since paid back the sum in full from the sale of vegetables, and have ear-marked profits from the upcoming sale of a tomato crop to fund urgent new investment in fencing for their land. “We have a problem with hippos who come in off the lake at night-time and eat the vegetables,” said Lillian.
“They are very destructive, trample the crops, and we need a barbed wire fence to keep them out.” The couple has built a tree-house look-out to monitor for trespassing hippos, and take it in turns to sleep on the raised platform so that they can raise the alarm and chase off the wildlife when they do encroach. “We bang a drum and throw stones at them when they come out of the water,” says 12-year-old Muemba, the youngest in the family.
Lillian, who sets aside a portion of their income at every harvest to pay household costs and to fund her family’s education, has high hopes for the future. “I would like to have the money to buy a pick-up truck, so that we can take our own produce to market, instead of paying for a vehicle to come and collect the produce from the farm,” she says.