You are currently viewing Marketing or productivity: Which is better alternative?

Marketing or productivity: Which is better alternative?

FOR a very long time now we seem not to have found the right formula for dealing with agriculture in Zambia.
We had agriculture in the First and Second republics which was highly subsidised by the government.
However, in the Third Republic we saw the liberalisation in which major players in the agriculture sector privatised; such entities as Lima Bank which was key to providing agro-financing and Namboard that was providing inputs. We had pros and cons for both policies.
Then, whose role is it to improve productivity and provide market opportunities for the farmer?
If I were asked to offer an opinion about what the right policy for agriculture is, I would go for a balance.
I know that agribusiness is still in its infancy in Zambia, especially when you consider productivity, diversification, marketing, value addition and agro-finance.
These factors need to be balanced and should work to complement each segment.
However, I would favour policies that will leave the private sector to be the key actor in marketing.
I am alive to the fact that worldwide, governments heavily subsidise agriculture. Even developed countries such as the United States do this.
The biggest challenge that we have in Africa and Zambia in particular is that, in spite of having the comparative advantage on the natural resource – land, we have inadequate technologies and finances to realise our full potential.
I am of the feeling that we should not always beg for money from these countries but technologies that will enable us to attain higher productivity.
If the government wants to subsidise agriculture, I think it should concentrate on intervening at production.
We need to improve our productivity for all the value chains in agriculture.
This does not mean the government should just sit back and watch the private sector “rob” our farmers when it comes to marketing. Nay!
We need to invest heavily in improving productivity and this can only be done if the private sector is encouraged to play a bigger in inculcating technology in our farmers.
However, there should be strong partnerships between the private and public institutions.
The government should encourage the private sector to invest in productivity improvement by investing in social sectors such as educating its population, improving rural infrastructure such as roads, energy, dams and communication.
By education, I don’t mean just attaining grade 12. We need to go a step ahead by identifying certain skills in pupils and developing them further.
The day the private sector will own the extension service delivery in this country, productivity will improve overnight.
Additionally, the heavy intervention of the government in the marketing activities really crowds out private participation.
The government’s role should be that of creating an enabling environment and strengthening private sector organisations that are involved in regulating fair play in marketing such as the Zambia National Farmers’ Union, Grain Traders Associations and many others.
Developing policies that will encourage private sector participation in marketing and investing in value addition in rural areas should be their main role.
The policies should be consistent to build private sector confidence.
When the private sector own extension service delivery, productivity will go up and market will no longer be an issue.
As things stand now, farmers are always waiting for the government to rescue them and somehow, this has brought inefficiency.
This does not mean the government should fold its arms and watch with arms akimbo. No!
It should be a stronger player and partner with the private sector, but its role should not go beyond ensuring that the inputs are landed at affordable prices at the door step of the farmer.
The government, to some extent, still has a role to play, but the process should be owned by the private sector if and only when the homework has been done.
The author is an agribusiness practitioner.