DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka
WHEN most people think of agriculture in Zambia and Africa, images of poor and overworked farmers with crude tools on a rural farm readily come to mind.
Many, especially young Africans too, still think that agribusiness is a poor manâ€™s occupation. Nowadays, everybody wants a white-collar office job in the city. Agribusiness is hardly on anyoneâ€™s mind.
But for Zambiaâ€™s Agriculture Minister Given Lubinda, time to transform agriculture sector is now and the power to do so lies in the hands of the young population.
Agribusiness seems to be topical now and not by Africans, but the worldâ€™s top business people.
â€œLately, many of the worldâ€™s top business people are investing in African agribusiness, all because our youths have shelved it and are not taking it seriously. Time to go back to the land is now. Farming has the potential to all our economic challenges that we face as a continent,â€ Mr Lubinda said.
Evidenced from the huge number of worldâ€™s top business people that invest in agribusiness in Zambia and Africa, agriculture is the biggest business opportunity right now.
According to the World Bank, Sub-Saharan Africa is home to nearly 50 percent of the worldâ€™s fertile, usable and uncultivated agricultural land. The size: over 200 million hectares.
This is why the continent is now widely considered to be the future breadbasket of the world. It is this huge abundance of land resources that gives Africa the strategic potential to feed the world. Africa has cheap agricultural land.
Interestingly, a large proportion of Africaâ€™s agricultural land is located in the rural areas. Thatâ€™s why theyâ€™re often cheap to buy or lease. On the average, one hectare of land can be leased for as low as K1000 (US$100) per year (depending on the location). This makes it one of the best land bargains you can find anywhere in the world.
Most of Africaâ€™s agricultural land lies in the savannah and tropical rain forest belt, which receives a favorable amount of rainfall and sunlight all year round. As a direct consequence, more than 80 percent of food crops consumed across the world can be produced here.
But the most challenging aspect of doing business in agriculture or agro-processing is finding a market for the product and adapting the business to cater for changing consumer demands. These are often the leading factors that cause businesses in this industry to fail.
â€œOne of the challenges we face here in Zambia and Africa as a whole is getting to proper market for our produce due to poor road infrastructure. Our feeder roads are in deplorable state,â€ says Neva Banda, a young farmer Chief Mpezeniâ€™s area in Chipata district in Eastern Province.
Mr Banda says despite the challenges that Zambia and Africa may be facing, the good news is that there is already a ready market and high demand for agricultural produce due to the ever increasing population.
â€œAgribusiness is one of the best business opportunities in the world because food never goes out of fashion. People must eat food every day,â€ Mr Banda says.
Currently, Africaâ€™s population is just over one billion people. At its current growth rate, the continentâ€™s population is expected to reach 2.2 billion by 2050. Now and in the future, Africa will always have a lot of mouths to feed.
Africa currently spends billions of dollars every year to import grains, flour and all kinds of finished and semi-finished foods which it can produce locally. There is a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs who can provide cheaper and locally-grown alternatives to the food that Africa imports.
â€œItâ€™s not just the food industry that depends on agribusiness. Several other industries, especially the manufacturing and processing industries, depend on agribusiness for a wide range of raw materials,â€ Lumuno Organic farms proprietor Khama Mbewe says.
Mr Mbewe says as Africaâ€™s economies continue to grow, the demand for raw materials will surely increase and create more interesting opportunities for agribusiness on the continent.
â€œAgribusiness in Africa has suffered through the years because of its poor yields and crude farm practices. Most of the crops cultivated on the continent produce very little and are often very prone to pests, diseases and drought,â€ Mr Mbewe said.
However, due to advances in crop and animal science and technology, it is now possible to harvest more food per hectare than ever before in Africaâ€™s history.
There are now improved crop and animal varieties that mature earlier, require less resources, and are less susceptible to pest attacks, diseases and drought. Across Africa, these improved varieties are increasing yields by as much as 400 percent!
There are now improved and locally-adapted varieties of maize, cassava, millet, rice, sorghum, beans, sweet potato, cowpea, groundnut, soybean, pigeon pea, banana, durum wheat, and bread wheat.
There are also several local and international organisations that are focused on supporting African farmers with improved seedlings and support. One of such organizations is the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), launched by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2006.
Entrepreneurs like Mr Mbewe started the agribusiness in 2007 on his farm. Today, he is a major supplier of Lumuno Chilli sauce to Pick nâ€™ Pay, the South Africa supermarket chain.
And AGRA president Agness Kalibata says the opportunity to start small means that people with little capital can become part of Africaâ€™s multi-billion dollar agribusiness industry.
Dr Kalibata says because of the guaranteed demand for agricultural produce, that small vegetable or poultry farm in your backyard could just become a huge business tomorrow.
â€œEvery evidence shows that you donâ€™t have to be a wealthy investor with millions of dollars in the bank or a highly-educated person in order to start a business in agriculture in Africa. You can start where you are and use what you have, and grow from there,â€ Dr Kalibata said.
Agribusiness is one of the most effective ways to create jobs and empower millions of Zambians and Africans too.
At present, up to 60 per cent of the labour force in Sub-Saharan Africa is employed in the agribusiness industry. Agribusiness remains a top employer of labour in many African countries.
The value chain in the agribusiness industry, from food production, processing and marketing provide huge opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship.
Africa is changing. Young people need to be a part of this big dream thatâ€™s finally coming true.
DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka