Agri-business Business

Allowing agricultural industry to mature

FELIX TEMBO
Can we all look at the clothes we are wearing today; how many of them were made in Zambia? Very few, if any, were made in Zambia. Apart from the chitenge material, some shoes and baby wear that were hand-knitted; all of our clothes are either from China or second hand from Europe.
Does this mean we do not have the capacity as a country to manufacture even low quality clothes? This is a question we need to be asking ourselves every day.
Not so long ago, we had great clothing factories in Zambia such as the uniform shop and Serioes. I will not be wrong to assume that we could even have been exporting to neighbouring countries.
What is of even more concern is that we have all the raw materials needed in making of such products (cotton, skilled labour, and land and of course capital, not to forget the available market).
Why, then, have we allowed ourselves to be importing even head-bands? To answer this, you will need another question to infer to, such as, why are we importing French fries when we are growing our own potatoes in Chisamba.
Well, for now let’s shelve the idea about clothes although it is linked to the topic I want to discuss with you today.
I think the reason why we are still importing sausages, French fries and oranges is that we have not allowed our agriculture industry to mature. We have made ourselves to be enclosed in a cocoon by not allowing the economics of supply and demand to take effect.
This has also contributed to our being inefficient producers of commodities.  It is one of the major reasons why our productivity has stagnated at 0.5t/ha for groundnuts for so long.
Normally, when we have not produced a lot, like is the case now, the powers that be have come up with restrictive policies such as banning the exportation of maize. This has made the price of the commodity to be stable but not reflective of the global market price.
Some farmers, or should I say most farmers, that are inefficient have even claimed to be good farmers because they have sold their produce at high prices.
In the same vein, we have tended to inflate the buying price even at times when we have produced more than we need.
This has led to some clever farmers from neighbouring countries where there is no restrictive trade to even smuggle maize and sell it in Zambia.  I witnessed this on the border with Mozambique and Malawi in the Eastern Province.
Some stakeholders contend that borders should be open for trade. As long as people are legally exporting commodities, they should be allowed to trade. Probably, the only barrier should be barring exports of maize as grain and allowing value-added products like mealie-meal.
For instance, we know that some of our neighbours get most of their maize grain and cassava from Zambia. Exports of this good should be allowed if only it is milled into mealie meal.
This will not only encourage our producers to grow more of these crops, but will also increase revenue from exports in foreign currency because the value of the products will be higher.  This, in turn, will mean more money for Zambia’s treasury through the various taxes.
If we do not re-strategise our agriculture sector, no matter how much money we pump into this industry in form of subsidies, it will not develop.  Agriculture is an infant industry in this country.  It can thrive.
The author is an agribusiness practitioner.  Email ftembo2001@gmail.com

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