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Agribusiness constituency

IN less than six months, Zambians will go to the polls to either choose a different government to stir them for the next five years or continue with the current government.
Many of the candidates are offering their services including those we know are blank about the roles they are applying for.
Since agriculture is part of my DNA, I want to share some of the things that we need to look out for as the candidates sell themselves.
In Zambia we have about five key productive sectors or pillars which one needs to highlight.
These are agriculture/agribusiness, energy, mining, tourism and manufacturing. These are the productive pillars of economic development for this country while the rest are mainly social sectors such as health, security education. For purposes of this article, I want to highlight some of the pertinent issues we need to look for in candidates that are offering themselves.
Agriculture or agribusiness, as I may interchangeably use them, means two different things will encompass activities involved with input supply, extension, production, post-harvest handling, value addition, marketing and or disposal, while financing will be a cross-cutting theme.
The idea is to help you make a sound choice of a leader or leaders that will make us food secure or lift us out of perpetual poverty. Many of the prospective leaders have made pronouncements to the effect that they will make agriculture the cornerstone of their economic emancipation.
I have always wanted these leaders to come out in simplistic terms with the strategies that they will employ to make agribusiness sound in this country.
It beats and chokes me to hear most of them focusing on provision of subsidised inputs to the farmers; this is just one-eighth of the solution. Agriculture is more than provision of cheap inputs to farmers. Just as a matter of recapping; the MMD government had been providing subsidised inputs since 2002 but have we seen agriculture develop in this country?
The answer is no. We are still importing cooking oil from the Far East through Kenya when we can be self-sufficient in this area. During the period under review, productivity has marginally improved from 1.05 to around 1.86 metric tons per hectare in maize, for instance.
A marginal increase of 0.81; is that the growth we want? Not really. We all know by now that if one has to grow maize, for instance, and make some profits, one needs to attain yields higher than five metric tons per hectare. The reason we have stagnated, besides others, is that our focus has been input provision, but agriculture is broader than this.
We all know that the northern parts of this country which receive adequate rains every Season have acidic soils. Has lime been part of the package?
In a country were illiteracy levels are relatively high, we also need to focus on provision of effective extension services. My take in this is that we need to reduce the ratio of extension officers to around 1:25 or less and these need to be well trained and funded.
No matter how much we promote production, if we forget to develop secondary and tertiary manufacturing industries, which should be nodes to market linkages for the farmers, agriculture will go nowhere.
Just pick one commodity like cotton. Our farmers are at the mercy of the Chinese and Indians; immediately their industries say they will not buy any more lint that particular season, the commodity prices go tumbling down. But suppose we had a functional manufacturing industry that is able to churn out jean trousers and leggings from cotton lint, we can still afford to offer reasonably good commodity prices constantly to our farmers.
It’s folly to call agriculture of focusing on maize alone as an industry. On this one, let me thank Minister of Agriculture Given Lubinda. He has done relatively well from the time he took over as he has given opportunities to farmers to cultivate what they want, unlike forcing even people in waterlogged places like the plains of Mongu to grow maize because we push inputs on them.
Therefore, as I end my article today, look for leaders that will offer you alternatives and that will look at agriculture in its entirety – as a value chain. We also need to sniff through their discourse of how they will do it, including funding.
The author is an agribusiness practitioner.