Analysis: FELIX TEMBO
HOW many of us that call ourselves farmers know what we will plant at the month end of November? Many of us are still debating whether to grow maize again, soybeans or cotton and worse off tobacco? To be honest, farming is the most difficult career and very risky.
No wonder companies such as BASF do say that ‘Farming is the biggest job on earth”, I totally do agree with them. Nonetheless, we are also told that the next billionaires will be farmers. This could be the reason one great entrepreneur called Aliko Dangote is investing massively in agriculture. He is putting up a fertiliser plant if not already done in Nigeria which might be the largest in Africa. He will be getting the phosphate raw material from Morocco. He had also put up a tomato processing plant a few years ago. Just a stone’s throw from Lusaka, some villages in Serenje are being displaced because investors are flocking to that part of Zambia like bees.
What this means is that even if you decide not to grow maize this season, you will just be brightening the opportunities for those that will risk their investments. I know this sounds awful to your ears but that is the reality of life. Just to share some experiences from countries away from Zambia; Indian farmers this year were throwing their vegetables on the streets because they were complaining about low commodity prices for their produce. They though, will still grow those vegetables because no community can survive without food. We can survive without copper, electricity, teachers but not food! I do not mean these are not important. So then, what should a Zambian farmer do or grow? Indeed, they need to grow food though Government should help them by encouraging real investments in processing. Remember, last week we discussed how successful the dairy industry is in this country. I don’t implore for all of us to abandon our hoes and start looking for dairy animals, not at all!
Funny as it may sound, there was a question posed by one farmer on Facebook platform for small-scale farmers whether chilli could be commercialised. A lot of people including me responded that yes, it is a value chain that can be commercialised in Zambia. One respondent mentioned one company that is getting the product from Malawi. Additionally, one farmer said a 5kg of the product was costing K100 at the market in Kapiri. Everyone was excited and, I think that farmer was motivated to produce. In a split of a second, a posting from Malawi indicated that they were selling the commodity at MK3 per kilo. That is equivalent to K0.05 per kilo or K0.23 per meda. What this quickly clicked into my bongo bongo (mind) was that the mentioned company was sourcing it from Malawi because it was cheaper there even after including transport costs; this is globalisation! This means it is more profitable to sell my chilli at K100 per five kilo here in Zambia than growing for the Malawian market. Additionally, if the mentioned company could drive 720km to just source the raw materials for them to process it, then there is market for the processed or value-added product.
What I am belabouring to drive at is that Zambian farmers should try to scan the market before they decide to venture into producing anything. We are all talking about maize being cheap when our colleagues that are growing chilli in Kapiri are making millions. There is no successful business that one can do without conducting a market research. The finding from this will help us make an informed decision on the level of investments we need and how much we anticipate making. I know we are businesses that have been made ‘lazy’ because we do not want to invest as we know there is ‘free’ fertiliser from government through FISP. If you are not sure of the market for maize next year, don’t dare grow it. Grow just enough for your belly and that of the ‘large grain borers’ in your house but commercially look at a commodity that will bring you more value. Have you ever dared to find out how much money those women selling watermelons on the road to Kabwe make? What about the onion farmers? Do you know that Malawians are making money through growing Nandoro or pigeon peas? Are you aware that the value of a ton of macadamia nuts on the world market is much more than a ton of copper, so why do we dare risk the lives of people to be burrowing the ground like rats? By the way, are you aware that there is no fish anymore in Lake Bangweulu such that crocodiles are now killing people to survive? Lastly, do you know that no matter how expensive fish will be, Mr Mwape from Luapula will always buy it. Let’s scan the market for what we can efficiently and profitably produce.
This author is an agribusiness practitioner.