March 17, 2016

Guest Commentary – From Seed to Sale: Connecting Zambian Farmers to Urban Markets

By Ann Steensland, Deputy Director, and Margaret Zeigler, Executive Director, Global Harvest Initiative

Photo by Ann SteenslandThe city of Livingstone, Zambia, is best known as the home of Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.  More than 2 million people visit the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site each year, making tourism the largest industry in Livingstone and the main source of income for many of its 140,000 residents. 

This presents an extraordinary market opportunity for the smallholder producers who live near Victoria Falls.

Small-scale farmers in the Livingstone area are cultivating seedlings and growing produce that is being consumed by thousands of tourists staying at Livingstone’s high-end hotels, thanks to the advisory services received through the Horticulture Innovation Lab, a USAID-funded initiative that is bringing together partners to increase smallholder horticulture production and connect farmers to markets in urban centers throughout Africa. The Livingstone project is the result of a partnership between Rutgers, Purdue, and Stellenbosch Universities, and Agribusiness in Sustainable Natural African Plan Products (ASNAPP). 

Photo by Paul MarcotteProgram participants receive training in the entire horticultural value chain, from seedling production to cultivation and post-harvest handling and commercialization. The project begins with the development and cultivation of high-quality seedling varieties. In the village of Kazuni, community members received training in the construction and use of high tunnels for seedling production. 
By 2014, more than 2 million seedlings had been produced for red and yellow peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, tomato, eggplants, melons, spinach, and cabbage. The seedlings are sold to local farmers, and thanks to Livingstone’s international airport and major road and rail connections to Lusaka, seedlings produced in Livingstone have been sold to producers as far away as Nairobi. 

Locally grown seedlings are purchased by neighboring communities where grower co-ops, such as the Nsongwe Women’s Horticulture Project, grow peppers, broccoli, cabbage, and some indigenous vegetables which are purchased by the luxury hotels and lodges in Livingstone. 
Photo by Ann Steensland
Special considerations are made in the Horticulture Innovation Lab programs to incorporate a gender focus. In Livingstone, specially developed seedlings and a solar powered drip irrigation system enable women to grow their produce during the off-season. As a result, they are not competing with larger-scale producers and can charge a premium price for products that hotels and restaurants need year-round. 

In the project’s first five years, more than 100 metric tons of vegetables valued at $170,000 were sold, primarily to the local hospitality industry. When Ann Steensland of Global Harvest Initiative visited the Nsongwe project in February 2016, the women reported that they now incorporate more vegetables into family meals and as a result, they and their children were much healthier. A project evaluation in 2015 confirmed that food security and dietary diversity have increased in the participating communities. Increased income is being used for medical treatment, school fees, and to build or expand homes.  

The Chicago Council’s Growing Food for Growing Cities series points out that the majority of urbanization actually occurs in small and midsize cities, like Livingstone. As the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s work in Zambia demonstrates, these rural and urban areas are deeply intertwined, creating market opportunities for smallholder farmers.

For more information about innovative policies, programs, and practices that foster agricultural productivity in Zambia and the United States, see the Global Harvest Initiative’s 2016 Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®), Building Sustainable Breadbaskets.



The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

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Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

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International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

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One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

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WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA


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