Compassion Farm in Zambia improves lives

Sisters of Mercy Compassion Farm:
Irrigation System to Improve Agriculture in Zambia

Mansa, Luapula Province, Zambia

Compassion Farm was established in 1998 by the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy. Located about eight miles from Lubwe, the farm is situated in the Lubwe-Sanfya District within the Mansa Diocese. It was initiated to establish the rural area as a better place for desperate youth to live so that they would not migrate to urban areas where they tended to get involved with criminal activity.

In making the compassion of Christ their mission, the Sisters of Mercy focus on the human and spiritual needs of people in rural areas. Seven sisters live and work in the Mansa area where they have two hospitals and a motherhouse. Medical care and outreach services to the local people are provided through the sisters' hospitals. With the increase of food production and jobs, resulting from the introduction of commercial gardening sustained through an irrigation system, a better world has been realized for the people.

The Beneficiaries of the Project

The beneficiaries of the project are the local community, the people in the two local hospitals, and the congregation of sisters. Most of the people are fishermen or peasant farmers that produce only enough food for their families. They live in thatched houses made of earth bricks and basically live on one meal a day. Water for domestic use is obtained from streams and shallow wells. Water-borne diseases are common, as is malnutrition. Charcoal and firewood are the main source of heat. Although the roads are fairly passable, there is no public transportation around most communities in this area. Some people rely on bicycles while others walk to the nearest stations.

The poverty of the people is complex. Factors such as malnutrition, lack of education, poor health, and few economic opportunities interplay and perpetuate each other, trapping generations in poverty. Children born into poverty face a multitude of affronts to their childhood: hunger, disease, limited access to education, and abuse. They attend one of two primary schools in the area but must travel long distances to attend the one secondary school. Many parents fail to send their children to school because of the school fees which the parents cannot afford.

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The HIV/AIDS epidemic in particular has had a devastating effect on households that depend on agriculture for a living. The loss of a few workers at the crucial periods of planting and harvesting can significantly reduce the size of the harvest. HIV/AIDS contributed significantly to the food shortages that were declared a national emergency in 2002.

The Compassion Farm Project

In response to this need, the sisters envisioned a farm that would include commercial gardening so that food could be harvested the year round. While maize, groundnuts, sweet and Irish potatoes, soy beans, finger millet, and cassava were grown through the rainy season, citrus fruit, timber, and bananas could be grown during the dry season. With the installation of an irrigation system in 2006, the commercial garden was able to produce enough food to sell and generate income. Because of this project:

  • Children who suffered from malnutrition are now provided less expensive food produced through commercial gardening

  • Youth have been empowered through the skills they learned in commercial gardening: citrus orchard husbandry, timber planting, and irrigation of crops

  • Alternative, less expensive sources of food have kept the fish supply from becoming extinct through overuse

  • Patients in the local hospital, especially malnourished children, and the sisters, novices, and postulants supported by the Sisters of Mercy Congregation, benefit from more affordable food produced on the farm

Steps in Developing the Project

In 1998, Compassion Farm, which would eventually be developed as a commercial venture, was initiated. The plan was to be able to produce food all year round. Currently maize, sweet and Irish potatoes, soy beans, finger millet, and cassava could only be harvested during the rainy season, leaving people hungry during the dry season. This farm would also be used as a demonstration farm to provide youth the opportunity for skill training beyond that of growing maize.

In 2003, the need for an irrigation system was discussed with the people, including the youth who were seen as potential laborers needed to work the farm all year round. Two sisters then visited the government-sponsored Agricultural Office in Mansa to seek technical support for the installation of the irrigation system. After one week, the agricultural consultant came to survey the place best suited for the installation of the irrigation system. Because the water source selected was located on the farm property, no local restrictions interfered with the plans for construction.

One month later, the consultant submitted a plan and an itemized list of the needed supplies and equipment. This list was sent to various companies to obtain bids on cost. The company that made the best offer was then selected for the project.

In 2004, a grant application request was submitted to the Conrad N. Hilton Fund for Sisters to cover construction costs for the irrigation system. The grant was awarded in October of 2005. When the grant arrived, a borehole, four shallow wells, and a dammed stream to feed a canal to carry water to different sections of the farm were constructed. Local labor was used for the construction work.

In 2006, the irrigation system with diesel engine was purchased and installed. Initially the plan was to use electricity for pumping the water through steel pipes, but because the transformer failed and took a year for it to be repaired, a diesel engine was installed instead. Another set back was experienced due to the placement of the water source. Because the water source was situated lower than the garden, orchard, and timber field, the canal could not conduct the water to these places; large hose pipes were therefore used for irrigation.

Thirteen fish ponds were dug near the water source so that water could be easily pumped into the fish ponds. Citrus orchards for oranges and quava were planted. A banana plantation was created. After timber planting was begun, a moringa tree plantation and garden were also planted.

The project offered employment opportunities such as:

  • Farm manager to coordinate the farm workers

  • Farmer manager assistant

  • Departmental supervisor and three helpers for the different agricultural areas: orange grove, banana plantation, quava grove, moringa grove, timber grove and vegetable garden

  • Thirty other workers to work on the farm

  • 100 to 500 casual workers

Plans for Sustainability of the Project

Financial constraints, due to the rising cost of fuel prices, resulted in a reduction of the work force.
To offset the rising fuel costs, a plan was put in place to use electricity along with diesel power.

Plans to expand the project to increase revenue include:

  • Expanding the garden, orchard, and timber field to increase sales from produce

  • Multiplying the number of fish from the fish ponds to increase sales of fish

  • Using both electricity and diesel power to operate the irrigation system

Evaluation of the project is ongoing to assure improved efficiency. Procedures for evaluation include:

  • Regular monthly meetings with the farm manager to discuss results of the work

  • Annual plan which gives direction to the staff for the coming year

  • Monthly report of income from the sale of produce

Other procedures that support sustainability include:

  • Expanding the project by adding other crops

  • Using machinery in addition to manual labor to increase profits

  • Purchasing more irrigation pumps to supply larger agricultural areas

  • Planning to reinforce the dam to hold enough water for distribution to larger areas

  • Increasing employment opportunities of youth for gardening in nearby villages

Practical Suggestions for Anyone Planning a Similar Project

Those interested in a project similar to this irrigation model may want to be aware of the following:

  • Commitment to goals is essential. The goal must be maintained by keeping focused and evaluating progress toward the goal on a regular basis

  • Community involvement is paramount. Community, especially the beneficiaries of the project need to be involved from the beginning and throughout to ensure ownership and commitment especially through the tough times

  • The support of stakeholders needs to be nurtured. Maintaining good rapport with stakeholders such as donors, the diocese, the government, and the sponsoring religious congregation will ensure their continued support

The dream is that one day Compassion Farm will grow into a large institution where the youth and other farmers can learn new and improved ways of farming. Moving from a past consisting of subsistence farming dependent on erratic rainfall to year-round farming sustained by irrigation, has given living proof that an integrated approach, that empower and sustain local communities, can generate lasting improvements in the lives of hungry people.


Taken from Seeds of Hope: Sisters in Action Around the World © 2009, sponsored by the Conrad N. Hilton Fund for Sisters and used with its permission. All rights reserved.

For more information about the program or about Seeds of Hope Seeds of Hope: Sisters in Action Around the World, contact: the Conrad N. Hilton Fund for Sisters, 10100 Santa Monica Blvd. Suite 1000, Los Angeles, CA 90067-4011 USA. Telephone: 310-785-0746 / Fax: 310-785-0166 / E-mail: Web site:

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