Opening the meeting Chairman Peter Wilson welcomed Jin McPhail as the second Forum Member to occupy the stage this season.
Jim began by identifying Zambia as the focus of his talk and in particular the Eastern Province and Chipata District which he chose as his Project Area. He also identified the latent opportunities for growth through investment in Africa by comparing the GDP figures of $40,000 per capita in UK with $1900 for Africa as a whole and $1600 for Zambia. Particular development difficulties emanate from Zambia’s landlocked position and is surrounded by 6 other countries. Zambia is 95% Christian which has provided for a more stable political platform than many other African States. However, a complex and slow Administrative process has encouraged businesses to resort to “facilitation payments” which spreads corruption to many levels.
Back in 2000 Jim visited Zambia with his wife and saw the urgent need to improve conditions amongst these rural poor. Struck by
their experiences, and through their Christian beliefs, they could not walk away and started the ShareAfrica charity with a mandate of alleviating poverty in small rural communities.
The charity began by developing a strategic plan helping farmers to grow quality seeds and crops in what is a risky rainfall regime. They established centralised purchasing and marketing for the crops for which farmers receive a guaranteed and enhanced payment. This is possible because the crops are now held in purpose-built dry storage sheds until the market price is elevated, when they can be sold. The proceeds pay down the purchase price and fund reinvestment of the surplus into a food factory where the manufacturing of nutritious foods like peanut butter, corn flakes and soya products is carried out for free distribution or sale. Today, with an annual turnover of more than $2m, the charity is supporting 475 farming families, sponsoring 220 orphans, and paying school fees and food for many others whilst still managing to expand the project base by about 20% a year.
Jim went on to show some pictures of his farmers including one, who had in the space of a couple or so years made enough money to build a house, put a roof on it, buy beds to sleep on, curtains on the windows and all the kids going to school. That gives him great pride in the Project
Although the Charity is founded on Christian ethics, they do not sponsor any Pastor or Missionary activities. Instead, they purchase materials and equipment to help Christian communities self-build or fulfill their own particular needs in their parish. These could be boreholes, solar power, buildings, fertilisers and seeds, etc which are identified, implemented and monitored by a team of 21 employees working from an office in Chipata. This team is supplemented during the planting and harvest seasons with casual outreach workers. The Charity supports hundreds of small farms and, to reduce administration, five or six farms are linked together under a lead farmer who coordinates all their requests for inputs and advice.
An important element of assistance is to advance payment to farmers for a pair of Oxen and plough. This means that their area under cultivation can be increased by around 5 acres and earn a 200% payback in the first year. Similarly, they offer start-up funds to enable lady street traders to buy more stock and increase their turnover to buy more stock and begin repaying their loan after a few cycles.
Another element of the Project is to produce quality seeds to obtain maximum yields and also to develop different varieties to meet changing climate conditions and consumer demand. The Charity runs 2 purpose-built seed farms and sponsors 110 farmers who are trained to grow seeds for the Project. Income from selling surplus seed is very important because it commands a hefty price premium over the basic product and can be realised at any time to support cash flow.
Back in UK, Jim explained that he maintains a Small Enterprise Resource Programme software package which gives him and the UK Charity Commission complete accountability for all funds generated at home and a financial record of all activities and disbursements in Zambia.
Finally, Jim addressed his audience of retirees who he claimed harboured a lot of latent talent. Like himself, there are still things one could do to help the disadvantaged and his advice was” You’re not dead yet so it’s never too late to start”.
The Chairman commented on Jim’s presentation as amazing, passionate and practical. Further questions highlighted the audiences’ captured interest and admiration for all that had been described and achieved by SHAREAFRICA ZAMBIA.and Roger Bancroft reflected these views with a generous vote of thanks.
Recorded by RICHARD WRIGHT