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Conservation agriculture: keeping people and wildlife safe.

One of the first things you notice about grocery stores in Zambia is the plethora of processed foods, from crackers made in Argentina to popular U.S. breakfast cereals. Complementing these foreign foods, however, is a variety of locally made and processed products, including indigenous varieties of organic rice, natural peanut butter, and honey from the "It's Wild" brand.

It's Wild was started by the Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO), an organization founded more than 30 years ago to help farmers improve their agricultural practices in ways that also protect the environment. COMACO encourages farmers to diversify their skills by raising livestock and bees, growing organic rice, using improved irrigation, and adopting other alternatives to slash-and-burn agriculture and wildlife poaching.

Drought, degraded soils, and the lack of effective agricultural inputs had left many farmers living near protected areas in eastern Zambia desperate, forcing many to turn to these destructive practices.

"We're trying to turn things around," said Dale Lewis, executive director of COMACO.

By training more than 650 "lead" farmers to train other farmers, COMACO also hopes to boost incomes by connecting farmers to the private market. The group supports the creation of regional processing centers and trading depots to make it easier for farmers to process and transport their crops. Where farmers "comply with COMACO, they see benefits," including a higher price to producers who use organic and conservation agriculture techniques, as well as improvements in food security and health, Lewis said.

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The resulting products are sold under the It's Wild brand in major supermarket chains across Zambia. In 2011, COMACO also plans to export its products to Botswana, overseeing as much of the distribution as possible so that the money stays with the farmers and not middlemen. Lewis hopes that eventually COMACO will be both self-sufficient and profitable without heavy dependence on donor funding--a significant challenge for an organization that works with thousands of farmers and has high administrative, transport, and salary costs.

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Title Annotation:EYE ON EARTH
Author:Nierenberg, Danielle
Publication:World Watch
Geographic Code:6ZAMB
Date:Jul 1, 2010
Words:327
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