I'm lying in my brick and mud mortar hut under my mosquito net. The oil candle I am using for light flickers and threaten to go out every time I shift my body weight. I forgot my headlamp in Toronto, and I don't want to use the precious battery life of my cell phone. The only power comes from an inefficient solar panel, made worse from being caked in dirt. Outside a symphony of crickets is keeping time with a band of dogs. It's a perfect time to reflect on the day.
It’s mid-morning. I find myself sitting in the shade of Austen's neighbor Emerson, who lives a 50 minute walk towards Chinjara village center, which is only a 5 minutes further. The three of us start talking about their jobs as agents for ‘A Zambian Chemical Company’ (AZCC). Both Emerson and Austen were trained in August by PROFIT in partnership with AZCC to be AZCC agents.
"What is your biggest challenge working as an agent for AZCC?"
They explain to me how there were a lot of promises made when they were trained. Things like 10 percent commission on sales, a different price list for agents that give discounted prices, and a review meeting that was supposed to happen in March where the agents could bring their concerns to AZCC management. So far, nothing.
"So if you don't make commission, and are not able to buy products for a cheaper price to sell back to farmers for profit, how do you make money?"
I learn that the AZCC agents are also Community Livestock Assistants (CLAs). CLAs are also trained by PROFIT in partnership with the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries. They work to provide basic veterinary needs to farmers like wound management, de-worming medications, spraying animals for ticks, etc. They report to their Vet Camp Officer who administers vaccinations for diseases and treats more advanced cases when they are called by the CLAs. As CLAs, Emerson and Austen charge for their service and this is how they make their money as agents. I also learn there are 2 other trained CLAs in Chinjara area.
It took me some time to wrap my head around it. They are both agents for a private sector company AZCC, but are also ‘agents’ for the Ministry as CLAs. The common ground is AZCC sells vet drugs which they can utilize as CLAs. On top of that AZCC sells fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and other agriculture inputs which as AZCC agents they are supposed to be selling to farmers. Confused? Me too.
As the conversation goes on, they start to voice their concerns about transport. They say they are not provided bicycles and have to pay out of their own pocket to go into the AZCC shop in town. Because they don’t receive commission, nor get the chemical inputs delivered, nor receive compensation for transport to get the chemicals themselves, they simply don’t go. As AZCC agents they are not selling or delivering inputs to farmers – they are stagnant.
"Did the coupons work?" - Anthony Candelario worked for EWB with AZCC. Part of his job was to increase agent support and one of the ideas he had was this coupon system. For a refresh you can read my post Agents, Agriculture, and PROFIT: My summer in a nutshell.
Emerson was the agent Anthony tested the system with. He gave Emerson 20 coupons, and Emerson distributed 18 to farmers in Chinjara area. That would be amazing, only he never saw the commission or recognition the coupon system was supposed to bring him, and he didn't know for sure if the farmers actually recieved the discount on their end.
When I arrived my understanding was that agents are mobile sales people, reaching out to farmers to sell and deliver farming inputs and provide them education on how to use them most effectively. Funny how quickly that picture changed, and how quickly a tapestry of challanges and problems is already weaving itself infront of me.
After lunch, of nshima and 'vegetable' (vegetable is apparently the name of the vegetable), I go with Austen to visit a farmer who called him to de-worm some piglets. When we arrive the farmer and Austen chat briefly in Chinyanja and then head off too catch the piglets. I follow.
The farmer holds the throat of the piglet with a firm grip to prevent shrieks of discomfort as Austen feels around the hind legs for a place to insert the needle. Fun fact: I hate needles (ask me about my fun time at the travel clinic). I made it to the third piglet before I started feeling woozy. While they are busy administering the drugs I slip away to the shaded sitting area and put my head on my knees.
"Deep breaths. You better not pass out. Holy shit, I’m going to pass out. Nope, I’m okay. I think. I hope. Wow, this is embarrassing. I'll blame it on the heat.”
By the time they are finished with the fourth piglet and are walking towards me in the sitting area I am able to stand, and we head homeward. If Austen noticed, he didn't say anything. All I can do is laugh at myself as I think about how useless I must seem.