CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka
A WIND of change is blowing over Senior Chief Kopa’s chiefdom.
The area, one of the most under-developed rural parts of Zambia and Muchinga Province, in particular, is in the middle of a drastic transformation.
It is host to Zampalm oil palm tree plantation that has created employment for close to 700 villagers since its establishment in 2008.
Most of the workers from the surrounding villages have built or are building bigger burnt-brick houses with corrugated iron sheet roofs, furnished with decent sets of sofa and plasma television sets.
They are also able to send their children to school.
But something much bigger is coming. From mere workers, they will soon become plantation owners, for Zampalm will embark on an aggressive out-grower scheme next year.
Government has recruited an oil palm tree specialist from Uganda, Nelson Basaalide, who initiated and successfully implemented a similar scheme in his home country, to drive the initiative.
Mr Basaalide says Zambia has perfect climatic conditions and the requisite resources to support successful oil palm farming, including good rainfall, plenty of sun light and vast tracts of idle land.
He explains that Senior Chief Kopa, whose support has been critical to the success of the multimillion dollar Zampalm project, will give each farmer a piece of land while Zampalm will supply palm tree seedlings and other inputs besides buying all their harvest.
The combined output of the core venture and the out-grower scheme are anticipated to provide enough raw material to turn Zambia into southern Africa’s largest producer of edible oil.
Currently, only Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) produce their own palm oil crude.
The rest of the countries, including Zambia, import from Malaysia and Indonesia.
There is, therefore, a yawning market begging to be exploited out there.
“We have scanned the environment; we have seen the potential,” Mr Basaalide bubbles. “Once the out-grower scheme is successful, which it will be, going by what we are seeing, Zambia will produce enough palm oil for the local market and a lot of surplus for export.”
He projects that if Zampalm continues receiving support from Government and the local people, in the next five to 10 years, Zambia will no longer be importing edible cooking oil.
“The local households will provide the required human resource. That’s why I am saying Zambia is lucky. It has all the pre-requisites for a successful out-grower scheme,” Mr Basaalide said.
The scheme is expected to create a micro economy which is likely to trigger urban-rural migration and help de-urbanise the country.
Besides creating a sustainable source of income for beneficiaries, the scheme will provide a ready market for people with artisanal trades such as carpenters, welders, electricians, plumbers and bricklayers.
The anticipated economic boom will also attract auxiliary infrastructure, including healthcare and recreation facilities, and learning institutions.
Zampalm is working with the district administration to have a police post built in the area in anticipation of increased crime the socio-economic impact of the operation is expected to attract.
It is also feared that the growth of the local economy is likely to attract commercial sex workers as has been the case in North- Western Province.
“There will be a lot of money in one place, and sex workers track such money. That is why during our sensitisation and registration, we will emphasise the need to involve the youth and women.
“We cannot afford to leave them out. We will also train and sensitise the out-growers in financial literacy and healthy work culture,” Mr Basaalide said.
The local people are eager to join the scheme.
Patrick Luo, who is headman Sankalimba, says he will be proud to be a plantation owner.
He is already earning a little income from the about 10 rejected palm trees he has planted for ornamental purposes around his homestead.
“I am already tasting it. I can’t wait for the scheme to start,” headman Sankalimba said.
Local businessman Dominic Chota says he is also ready to register as an out-grower.
“We are lucky that the local people are willing to join the scheme,” Mr Basaalide said.
The palm tree produces four times more oil than the other sources such as sunflower and soya.
Mr Basaalide, who has a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture and a Master’s in Business Management, said: “It can give you three to four tonnes of oil in a hectare. But even if you have the best yield of soya, it can only produce up to 1.6 tonnes for one hectare.
“You will wait for only three to four years to start harvesting, and you continue harvesting for 25 years. What business can be better than that?”
Government acquired Zampalm from Zambeef Products Plc in April this year at a cash consideration of US$16 million.
Currently, there are 3,300 hectares of high-yielding hybrid varieties of palm trees imported from Malaysia and Indonesia.
Mill manager Simon Chileshe says the plant is currently producing 1.6 tonnes of crude a day, but can produce up to 16 tonnes a day at full capacity.
Senior Chief Kopa is full of praise for President Edgar Lungu and his administration for allowing Zamaplm to be established in his chiefdom.
“The establishment and presence of Zampalm in Kopa Chiefdom has tremendously changed the well-being of our local people through the reduction of poverty levels from the time the plantation was started,” he says in a report.
“For example, many houses constructed in the past were thatched. Apparently, there are at least modernised houses belonging to the local people. In addition, most of the parents are now able to send their children to the nearby secondary school unlike in the past,” he said.
Chief Kopa said the jobs for local people, especially the youth, have lightened the burden borne by parents.
In her 2019 budget address to the National Assembly on September 28, 2018, Minister of Finance Margaret Mwanakatwe announced that Government will over five years expand the out-grower scheme to cover 20,000 hectares in Luapula and Muchinga provinces with over 25,000 farmers benefiting.
“In Muchinga Province, an out-grower scheme for palm oil trees will be rolled out to 500 households covering an initial 380 hectares under IDC [Industrial Development Corporation],” Mrs Mwanakatwe said.
The out-grower scheme is a direct contribution to the implementation of the Seventh National Development Plan, which targets job creation and poverty reduction through agriculture.
CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka