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Choshen Farms Help Zambian Farmers Build Security

The Future Is in the Ground

How often do you think about the ground beneath your feet? If, like me, you grew up tied to the land, the answer is likely “every day.” My stepdad had 800 acres in the Palouse, land first farmed by his grandparents and parents before him. I can still hear him saying that when he needed a loan from the bank, he would put up nearly anything as collateral—except the land itself. No matter what was going on in the world, no matter how badly things seemed to be falling apart, he wanted to have that piece of ground for his family to fall back on. The land was security. The land was the family’s future. Now that I’m raising children of my own, I’m still tied to the land—just different land. My wife Bethany and I are co-directors of Choshen Farm, a non-denominational, not-for-profit organization serving with the local community in rural Fimpulu, Zambia. Through agriculture, education, health initiatives and more, we work in Jesus’ name to help our neighbors thrive. When I first arrived in 2006, I was surprised by how many of my new neighbors offered to sell me their land; I wondered why they didn’t want to hold onto it for their children and grandchildren. But over time, I began to see why: Traditionally subsistence farmers, the people in Fimpulu saw little profit from their acreage. While machete scars in the tree bark marked the informal lines between undeeded properties, villagers enjoyed communal rights to the land and its resources. If someone collected firewood or cut down the occasional tree on their neighbor’s property, no one made much fuss about it. All that started to change when outside real estate interests, flush with cash, began to cast an eye on the land around Fimpulu. When they offered a quick dollar in exchange for unprofitable plots, it seemed like an opportunity too good for residents to ignore—especially for those who were desperate. Why hang onto property they barely eked a living from? But the consequences of parting with the land soon became apparent. The new outside interests blocked the communal access villagers had previously enjoyed, and local property owners began to follow suit. In less than a generation, resources that were once free, like the materials used to build and repair homes, became scarce. Many of my neighbors had no ground to put  their spades in. Without land of their own to cultivate, the rising generation picked up piece labor— a day-to-day existence even more fragile than their parents’ subsistence farming. Choshen Farm exists to help our neighbors thrive and determine their own futures. As we have seen the changing dynamics of land ownership play out in their lives, we’ve taken steps to help them hold onto their properties—and their families’ futures—by making their acreage healthier and more productive. When Fimpulu’s farmers couldn’t make a profit off their land, they had little incentive to keep it. In recent years we have partnered with local farmers to introduce conservation practices that improve yield and increase profitability, allowing them to invest more back into their properties and build security for future generations. For example, many Zambian farmers, including those in Fimpulu, have traditionally engaged in residue burning right before the hottest, driest part of the year, killing off many of the important microorganisms in the soil. Along with crop rotation and other techniques, we have encouraged farmers to leave old plant growth in their fields, improving the health of their soil and the yield during their next harvest. We have also introduced soya, a crop not grown here until five years ago. Perhaps more importantly, we brought in equipment to process soya locally. Before, farmers would have had to transport their soya crop 500 hundred miles to process it. The associated costs would have eaten up their profits. Without the equipment, there could be no local market, and no one wanted to grow it. But once local processing became possible, farmers could expand their arable land area and keep more of their profits. Today it makes economic sense for Fimpulu farmers to include soya as part of their crop rotation. In turn, soya production helps make their land healthier and more fertile. As the land becomes more productive, our neighbors’ prospects are starting to look brighter. They can invest more in their children’s education; health improves; living standards increase; local youth have better economic opportunities. Those who do choose to sell can command a better price for more profitable land. Bit by bit, local farmers are beginning to see the land as a resource to conserve, not to liquidate for quick cash. We are working alongside them toward a future where they can maintain the land for themselves and their children’s children—a source of stability, dependability and flourishing for generations to come. Choshen Farm is a 501(c)(3) with boards in North America and Zambia. To learn more about our work visit

Publishers note: Agri-Times featured Choshen Farms in a May 2019 article. We recently asked Jeremy Colvin to share with our readers "the rest of the story."

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