Inequality in Zambia: How banana farming is changing a community

Faith with her banana harvest in Chiawa, Zambia
Faith,the brain's behind the project, with some of her bananas in Chiawa, Zambia where she lives with her husband and their six children

Zambia is among the top ten fastest growing economies in the world, it is now classed as a lower-middle-income country and yet most of the population are not seeing the benefits of this growth. Poverty rates have increased while multi-national companies benefit from low tax rates.

Rural areas are extremely poor; there are very few jobs, inadequate health centres, schools, and roads but in one small village, Chiawa, a group of women farmers are working with Oxfam to find hope and security in banana farming bananas.


The women's banana farm

Faith, who had previously worked in the cotton industry, had the idea for the farming group which has been supported by HODIS, an Oxfam partner. “Bananas have a good market value. We have seen a difference. We have more money than we used to” and “the impact is community-wide. We can employ labourers. I think it will transform the lives of each and every woman in the farm. Some have small buildings, many have started building good houses and taking their children to school” says Faith who won an agricultural award for her work in 2014.

A banana farmer cuts some leaves off her crop, Zambia

Faith cuts some banana leaves off her trees in the farm.

The erratic rainy season and periods of drought make the Zambezi River the only reliable source of water, but it is infested with crocodiles. This means that many farmers are forced to risk their lives every day, just to irrigate their land. Irene Muzukira, who also works in the banana project, explains what it is like to rely on the river, “We would run for our lives if we saw crocodiles; we would take the water as fast as we could. It was as though we were stealing water from the river.”  Bananas are a high value crop but they also require a lot of water to grow. Oxfam helped the women’s farming group by first listening to their needs and then investing in safe irrigation systems, water pumps and solar fencing to keep the wild animals, out of farm land. The measures allow the crops to grow and keep them, and their farmers safe.  

A mother prepares her children for school before cycling to work, Zambia

Irene prepares her children for school before cycling to work on the banana farm.

Oxfam are providing training and financial aid to the 80 or so women in the banana farming group. We are also helping farmers connect to bigger markets outside of their village; the group is now supplying award-winning bananas to supermarkets in Lusaka, the capital city, 170km away.

For Irene, the impact of inequality is clear. “Those who have been to school have access to so many things – including employment. They have access to education, so they can get jobs. If people don’t have access to education, they will remain poor. Inequality? People with a lot of money have things for their children to enjoy. For the poor – the masses – we don’t have anything.”

Act Now

Countries like Zambia are losing vital tax revenue which could pay for better health centres, schools and roads because multinational companies can hide vast profits in the secret global network of tax havens.

The tax lost to Africa alone could be enough to pay for healthcare to save the lives of 4 million children and to employ enough teachers to educate every child in Africa.

If we won’t live with poverty, then we can’t live with today's extreme inequality. Join us, and help end the era of tax havens.