Farewell to blog

For longtime followers of this blog this announcement will come as little surprise as I have not been nearly as prolific in my posts as I was in 2011. All the same i would like to officially announce that I will no longer be adding new posts on this blog. The reasons for this are varied.

Firstly, I have recently left Zambia and completed my volunteer position woth Engineers Without Borders Canada to start a new job in an international healthcare access organization working in developing countries around the world. I am very excited about the this new job as I will be working to bring much needed medical diagnostics products to Africa and other developing countries.

Secondly, and perhaps most portantly i have realized that this blog evolved into a forum for me to share my wonderment and excitement as I explored a new culture and land. As Zambia became more familiar to me my ability to see the interesting in the everyday became exceeding more difficult. As a result I had more difficulty to transition to a new format for his site.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank so many people. I would like to send out a heartfelt thanks o everyone at EWB for the opportunity to live and work in Zambia on projects that try to address the root causes of poor market access for rural farmers. I also would like to thank everyone who visited this site over the last year and hose who contributed to this blog through their comments. I appreciated all your interest and support and I apologize if I was not able to respond to every individual comment or request.

I bid everyone a fond farewell but not goodbye.

All my best

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GMO debate

I came across an interesting story in the news paper yesterday. It was a piece on the merits of GMOs in the agriculture sector and whether Zambia should consider revisiting the ban on these crops. The question to be decided is if the advantages outweigh any negatives. I look forward to seeing where this debate goes.

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Cattle auction

In my work with Musika I am exposed to so many different aspects of the agriculture sector in Zambia. The team here does some amazing work and are so knowledgable about the sector and it’s key actors that it is hard not to learn something everyday. A large part of my current work has me working on market research for all sorts of key markets in Zambia. I am learning all about the challenges that rural farmers face in accessing the markets but I am also learning about the innovative ways that Musika and organizations like it are helping to change these systems to address the challenges.

Today I have included a photo of a poster advertising Zambia’s first ever cattle auction to be held sometime in August. This is a major step forward in providing rural cattle farmers with a transparent market to sell their cattle and could fundamentally change the way cattle buyers and sellers interact forever in this country. That is moo-sic to my ears (couldn’t resist the pun)


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We all need help sometimes

The office where I am working has 2 “guard” dogs who live in the compound. They are cared for by the ground staff and lead pretty content lives; most days they can be found lying in the warm sun or trying to chase away the monkeys that periodically invade the compound to steal fruit or maize cobs. The compound they live in is pretty typical of those found all over the city and country. Imagine your yard with a 10 foot high concrete wall topped off with a 2 foot high electrified fence and you have a good idea of a typical Zambia compound. From the road all you usually can see is the tops of some trees or the upper floors of a house, unless you are lucky enough to get a glimpse inside as the large steel gates are opened to let a vehicle in or out.

In today’s photos I have snapped an example of our compound wall and a photo of Clusa giving Shemp a helping hand (or muzzle to be exact) in removing a few fleas from his back. They are named after a development organization and project, respectively, so I guess it is appropriate that they are so helpful 🙂



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Mark and the Agro-dealer

After over 6 months living and working in Zambia I have started to notice that I am having increasingly more difficulty discerning what photos and subjects might be interesting for me to share as life here just becomes more normal to me.  I have had many suggestions from readers regarding potential subjects and I have taken note of them all and will endeavour to cover those topics.  I kindly ask that you keep the suggestions coming so I can share those things that interest you most.  Perhaps I already have a photo or story on just that subject in my collection that I may share.  

One complaint I have had a few times now (thanks mom) is that there are not enough photos of me doing stuff on this blog.  With this in mind I am sharing this photo that was kindly snapped by a young boy who took a real fancy to my iPhone.  Once I showed him how it worked as a camera he proceeded to take about 40 more photos just like this, most of which were out of focus, to show off to a girl I think he liked.  It was a WIN-WIN-WIN – he enjoyed himself thoroughly, the girl seemed mildly impressed, and now I have a photo to share with you.  In this photo I am in a village named Kembee in Central Province standing before one of the Agro-dealer shops I worked with last year.  I had facilitated an agent training workshop just the week before with some of the top agents working for the agro-dealer and this particular week I had returned to do a follow-up and see how the shop manager was making out with the new record-keeping forms I had introduced.  This shop is pretty typical of the agro-dealer shops I am working with in my role at Musika.  These shops vary in size but typically offer all assortment of tools, fertilizers, seeds (maize and vegetables), and chemicals for pest and disease control.  The week I visited it was the peak of the maize seed buying season and the shop was so full you could hardly get in the door!  Farmer here procrastinate like people the world over – they wait until the very last minute to buy their seed, despite knowing for months that they will need to be planting maize for the family and for profit when the rains come. 


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Malawi: a state of change?

I have just returned from Malawi yesterday evening. Little did I know that while I was there That I would be witness to a moment of history for this long suffering nation. On Friday it was I unofficially reported that the president, Bingu wa Mutharika, had died. This president had been the source of much controversy both in Malawi and abroad in recent times. Under his rule the country has experienced a major problem obtaining foreign exchange that is so critical to any business wanting to import goods. For months Malawian have been queuing up in outrageously long lines for fuel for their vehicles and more recently the country has started to suffer shortages even of good they can produce locally, like sugar. This photo is one I took of about 100 people queuing for sugar in the capital Lilongwe. This was a common sight around town as some goods are in short supply and inflation is spiraling ever higher.

Malawi has now sworn-in only the second female president in African history. Let’s all wish her well in her efforts to turn things around in this wonder country that so many EWB friends call home.


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Boabab Tree

My photo of the day today is of a majestic Baobab tree I saw in Eastern Zambia on one of my first forays into “the bush” last year.  I have always loved this type of tree (there are actually 8 species in the family) since the first time I saw one in Burkina Faso in 2004.  Perhaps it is the oddly shaped trunk I like so much, or the alternative name “Tree of Life”, or the fruit with the comical name “monkey bread” (full of Vitamin C but not very tasty).  Or perhaps it is just the fact that it can hold tens of thousands of litres of water in its truck that can be tapped in times of drought.  Whatever the reason, the sight of one on the horizon always puts a smile on my face.   


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Plastic bottles

When I first arrived in Zambia it was such a pleasure to see that glass bottles of all descriptions were still in heavy use here. We can debate the merits of shipping heavy glass around and the carbon footprint it creates, but there is just something much more pleasing to me about glass. Maybe it is the fact that I am fairly confident that nothing harmful is leaching into my food from glass. Or maybe it is the fact that glass can be reused for its original purpose with only a good cleaning and when it is no longer useable, it can be recycled into new glass. Plastic can’t claim to do any of those things. But perhaps most of all the thing I like about glass is that when it is tossed aside carelessly I know it will eventually grind down into small inert pieces before too long. Once again plastic has a lot to learn from glass.

This photo is typical of what I see everyday as drink makers here start to replace good old glass with plastic bottles. Maybe “development” is not always such a good thing.


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My new posting In Zambia

I realize I have been negligent in updating everyone about my new work in Zambia so today I will rectify that situation.  I am still volunteering with EWB but I have switched teams from the Agricultural Value Chains (AVC) to the Business Development Sectors (BDS) team.   The AVC team in Zambia was already very focused on working with private sector partners as a means to reduce poverty for rural Zambians, so the move to the BDS team has been a very smooth one so far.  In my new role as a BDS African Program Staff (APS) I am partnering with a new Zambian organization called Musika (it means market in one of the local languages) to help build organizational capacity and to provide more tangible deliverables like preparing research reports on agent networks and market assessments on a variety of sub-sectors in the Zambian agricultural system.   Musika is a new breed of social enterprise that is focused on making markets work better for the rural farmer.  I think it is best if I let them tell you the details in their own words.  I lifted this from a communications note and I think it does a great job of explaining their work and philosophy. 

What and Who is Musika?

·         Musika is an independent Zambian non-profit company, affiliated with the Zambian National Farmers Union.  Our vision is that in 5 years, we will have helped create a dynamic Zambian agricultural market that works for all stakeholders, in particular rural farming communities. To achieve that goal, we provide quality market development services to Zambia’s rural agricultural sector to increase the impact that it has on economic growth at all levels of society.  

Who does Musika work with?

·         Musika’s facilitation approach focuses on assisting Zambian businesses, farmers and associations to address market challenges and find innovative opportunities for growth.

·         Our target clients are the Zambian smallholder farmers who are willing and able to invest in their production and engage with commercial markets.  Our direct day-to-day clients are primarily private businesses (from multinational corporations to rural micro-enterprises) that are willing to invest in productive and beneficial commercial relationships with the rural poor. We also work with other NGOs in the sector, government departments, industry associations and civil society.

·          Musika works to ensure that women and vulnerable individuals are included in productive opportunities.  We are also working with partners to reduce environmental risks and exploring opportunities, including bringing the benefits of international environmental markets to rural Zambia.

What does Musika do?

Musika’s work focuses on 4 key sectors in agriculture – inputs, outputs, services and finance

1.       Agricultural Input Markets: Musika works with agricultural retail firms and livestock input supply companies to develop business models to effectively service the smallholder market with a sales service that bundles information and technology transfer into the transaction.

2.       Agricultural Service Markets: Musika works to develop commercial service provision for rural farmers in the form of veterinary services, mechanized land preparation, crop spraying, cattle dipping, etc. to increase smallholder productivity, helping Zambians to develop businesses that will service farmers, for example,  veterinary services, mechanized land preparation, crop spraying, cattle dipping, etc. to increase smallholder productivity.

3.       Agricultural and Rural Finance Markets: Musika focuses its efforts primarily on the developing financial products and services with existing financial institutions  that support the poor in accessing financial services and products that meet their needs.

4.      Agricultural Output Markets: Musika focuses on building relationships between crop and livestock buyers and smallholder suppliers, and on facilitating the development of a broader, transparent, less risky market environment.

Where does Musika work?

Musika’s geographical areas of operation are determined by the requirements of the various private sector players in these markets.  At the moment this includes: Southern, Lusaka, Eastern, Central, Northern and Muchinga Provinces.  Our mandate includes supporting where appropriate the development of agricultural markets in the more remote regions of Northern and Western Zambia.

How does Musika work?

Musika offers support through information and education, and small investments to entities in the agricultural and rural markets to assist in developing their businesses and servicing small holder farmers. The intention of all Musika’s investments is to support businesses in trying out new service offerings that will benefit smallholder farmers.

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Roadside veggies: supply and demand

To carry on the tradition of sharing parts of daily life in Zambia I am featuring a photo of a row of roadside vegetable stands found on the side of the highway going between the Copperbelt and Lusaka. The prices here are much lower than in the capital and competition is fierce as there must be over 50 of these sellers side by side ( I just love the care and attention put into the display on the tables)

Overcrowding of markets like this one seems pretty typical here. Once someone has an idea and makes some money, many others will copy the idea and flood the market until everyone’s share of the market is so small that they are all just getting by. As another example, in my neighborhood alone there must be dozens of small grocery stands that duke it out for my wallet.


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