Dr. Mark Wade is an international consultant, researcher, teacher, speaker, and author from Fort Pierce, Florida. He holds a BS in animal science and industry and an MS in agricultural economics from Kansas State University. He also holds a PhD in agribusiness management and agricultural economics from the University of Nebraska. Read about Mark’s experience volunteering with ACDI/VOCA below. 

A common problem for smallholder farmers and processors and small- and medium-sized agribusinesses in Zambia, especially those operating in rural communities, is the lack of access to affordable business financing. This is certainly true for those with little to no collateral, those who are younger and have less experience, and female owners and operators. The USAID Zambia Enterprise Development and Growth Enhanced (EDGE) Activity, funded by USAID and implemented by ACDI/VOCA, provides training, mentoring, and networking opportunities to those selected agribusinesses that wish to grow and prosper. I recently had the great privilege to work as an ACDI/VOCA volunteer with these wonderful producers, aggregators, input providers, and processors for a month alongside the dedicated EDGE Activity team.

Weeks of Planning Before Arriving in Zambia

Several weeks of discussions preceded my arrival in Zambia, where we discussed  curricula and prioritized presentations and content. We outlined and debated multiple program options related to the target audiences and the desire to maximize participation and impact. Once in Zambia, we had several planning and review sessions to fine tune our agenda and strategy. COVID-19 restrictions meant that the initial workshops would be held remotely, but the final two weeks allowed us to present to live audiences in the Eastern and Central Provinces.

Workshops Draw Attendees from Far and Wide

Large diverse crowds of eager, enthusiastic agribusiness owners and managers attended the workshops, with some leaving home at three in the morning to get there on time. One attending field officer represented a women’s development association with over 5,000 female members working in agriculture. With multiple value chain representatives in attendance, the workshops took on more of a rock concert vibe than an agricultural education event. I have never seen such an incredible hunger for knowledge and excitement to learn.

Participants Gain Skills in Business Planning

The most significant assignment was to train participants to write a practical and applied strategic business plan. This will enhance their ability to receive loans or grants, gain access to mutually beneficial farm contracts, and explore the endless possibilities of niche or alternative markets. The primary workshops covered business planning for agribusinesses, contract farming, and agricultural product marketing. Food processing and packaging were also covered. In total, we delivered more than 30 training presentations to 18 business advisors and 200 small- and medium-sized enterprises, representing 64.5 hours of training content.

Learning From Each Other

After weeks of workshops and robust question and answer sessions, both virtual and in-person, a tremendous amount of information was shared. As much as I hope the attendees learned from me and their peers, I think I may have learned even more from them. I learned about their beautiful country and their history, their culture of acceptance, openness, and faith, and their agricultural practices and challenges. Most of all, I experienced how wonderfully warm and inviting the Zambian people are. I would go back to Zambia today if the opportunity presented itself.

Learn more about our Volunteer Programming.

Learn more about our work in Zambia.

Learn more about the USAID/Zambia EDGE Activity.