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Agriculture holds Zambia’s potential for ages

MAY I start by congratulating Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) for attaining 110 years and for successfully holding their congress. I normally feel elated in the presence of farmers, farm implements, animals and healthy-looking crops.
The Minister of Agriculture Given Lubinda was the guest of honour at this year’s gala and he gave a powerful speech from which I want to ‘parrot’ a few points in this article. Normally, Zambians are very good at developing strategies and giving speeches but the ingredient that we lack most is implementation.
One striking point the minister noted was that this country has the potential that can make it the hub of agriculture in the region. We all know that we have some of the best soils, good climate and abundance of water but to date our agriculture is far much less developed than that of South Africa, for instance, which does not receive as much rainfall as we do.
What was most striking was his point that in the presence of the comparative advantages in agriculture, we have failed to attain the competitive edge. This can only be compared to a starving person who has maize in the granary, pumpkin leaves in the garden and yet he cannot cook and starves to death – that is folly, to say the least. However, we need to dissect and bring out the salient points that have made us fail to harness that potential.
The environment to some level is not conducive for the farmers to attain the competitive advantage. For instance, for one to cultivate a hectare of maize, one needs to have access to finance to buy inputs (fertiliser, seed, pesticides and implements).
One could have the skill and hopefully traditional land where to grow his crops but if the banks are not willing to bridge the financing because of the perceived risks, that person will not harness the potential. May I commend ZNFU again for achieving another milestone.
They are working with other stakeholders such as the Ministry of Lands to facilitate smallholder farmers’ access to title for their land. During the gala, 50 farmers of Manyonyo area were presented with title deeds. One may wonder that it is the responsibility of the owner of land to get a title deed but those that have attempted to get the document for their property will agree with me that it is not easy to do so in this country – there are so many bottlenecks and red tape.
Just imagine, I bought a small piece of residential plot in Chipata in 2011 and to date I do not have a title.
Actually, I now want to see the permanent secretary to find out why it has to take me this long to have that important document. It seems people do not realise that I have lost so many hours chasing for that document.
What are the implications of the smallholder farmers having title to their land? They can now walk to commercial banks and access loans to finance their production. We all know that the basic factors of production are land, labour (skilled) and finance. It is the finance ingredient that has been a thorn in the flesh of farmers regardless of size (small, emergent, commercial, corporate).
This does not mean that it will sort out the missing jigsaw in the puzzle but it is a step in the right direction. You will also appreciate that our farmer union has for the past three to four seasons now been supporting emergent farmers with access to important farm implements like tractors through the Bujimi Farm Asset in collaboration with stakeholders like Zanaco, AFGRI, SARO, NWK and many others.
I know the union will not sleep and I challenge them to engage Government further to make the environment more conducive. We cannot, honestly, afford to have fertilisers selling at K450 when a year ago these inputs were selling at only K215 (this is a 109 percent increase). This makes us, small-scale farmers, fail to plan well.
We appreciate Government’s opening up of rural areas by land linking them; this will definitely attract private sector investments such as what Cargill has done in Chipata – setting up a milling plant. The government should do a bit more by moving out of grain marketing completely and open up borders for export of finished products and not raw materials like grains (maize, soybeans, wheat, cotton).
Lastly, the farmer union and other stakeholders should seriously look into improving productivity for our smallholder farmers while making sure those real markets for the products exist. I know for sure that they are doing that systematically as mentioned above. One way of expanding the market opportunities is by improving the health systems so that the population of Zambia can grow as we explore regional markets such as Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Southern African Development Community (SADC) or even Asia. Congrats once more to the stakeholders in farming.
The author is an agribusiness practitioner

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