Analysis: FELIX TEMBO
THERE are more tomato growers in Zambia than those involved in rearing dairy animals.
Roughly, over half of the vegetables including tomato that we buy from the chain stores in Zambia are imported from South Africa. We are yet to be availed with the latest information by the commerce and trade minister on the trade imbalance in the vegetable market. When the minister of agriculture banned the importation of vegetables, one of the prominent vegetable markets was the first one to cry loudest, indicating that the Zambian farmers were getting a raw deal. I remember seeing a clip on national television where the vice-president of the Zambia National Farmers Union was supporting the action taken by the minister though a few days later, the action was reversed.
It is very difficult for the minister to convince me that Zambians cannot grow the quality vegetables that are sold in these chain stores. In any case what has changed now, when in the 1980s when we used to eat our own Zambian-grown tomatoes? This trend that we have developed of wanting to eat products that are grown from outside will one day backfire in our faces because certain countries that we import some of these products from have embraced genetically modified organisms (GMO) and our regulatory institutes may not have the capacity to detect such in processed imported foods. I have no doubt whatsoever to believe that even raw food can easily see itself through our borders undetected. With this scary scenario, I believe that relying on our home-grown foods is the only way we will maintain our well branded non-GMO grown foods. I implore the horticultural sector in the country to be well organised with great support, of course, and the right policies from government. This sector may benefit by learning from how the dairy sector has organised itself.
In Zambia, we have more beef cattle than we have dairy animals but we seem to be self-sufficient in milk supply though there could be instances when some milk could have been ‘smuggled’ from Europe. I normally take that as exceptions and we are talking about fresh milk supply here. The reason this has worked so well is due to the great involvement of a private company that has been the driver of the milk sector; we should all give a hand to Parmalat. I doubt if this company owns even a single ranch of dairy animals but they have adequately supplied all the supermarkets and open markets with milk which is bought from all kinds of farmers. I have emphasised this point because certain chain stores always complain about the quality of tomatoes, onions including cabbages that some local farmers have attempted to supply them. I find this odd because it is these same farmers that have met the quality and standards needed by Parmalat in the milk value chain. I have taken keen interest with microscopic eyes to study how this company is able to meet the targets in terms of milk procurements and it is so satisfying to report that they have invested and invested well in that sector. By the way, fresh milk has a very limited shelf life than even tomatoes for instance. One day in my quest to contribute to making Zambia a food basket of the region, I stopped over in Monze to study the milk value chain through farmers that sell milk (both fresh and sour) on the roadside just before you enter the town. I interacted with four farmers who interestingly enough even feted me to their products. These farmers have been trained on how they need to harness their product so that it can meet the standards and quality needed. They have organised themselves into milk co-operatives with help of other organisations as well; organisations such as SNV, Heifer Zambia and those projects funded by USAID. These farmers have even learnt complex operations in livestock management such as artificial insemination for breeding stock. They have been trained in feed formulation that can enhance cow milk production. They also have been trained in good milking operations and how to detect diseases or disease-causing pathogens in their product. Many of these farmers used to be large maize growers just a couple of few seasons ago but they realised the ever-increasing cost of getting maize inputs and the changing weather patterns and switched to dairy farming. The ever-fluctuating commodity prices also forced them out of production of maize at commercial scale; now they only grow maize and soybean for feed of their animals and their families.
On a specified timeframe in a week, Parmalat sends a refrigerated truck at milk collection centres to collect the milk from the farmers. Some farmers boasted that they make as much as K30,000 per week from their milk supplies. This is equivalent to the money they used to make in a year when they were growing maize, so, why are some farmers still complaining about the low maize prices; is maize something that they can’t do without? We need to replicate this in the vegetable sector and ban all the imports from South Africa and Tanzania. Please madam minister, ban vegetable importation again and ‘block’ your ears for a year. Zimbabwe has done it with soybeans even if they don’t have enough of the crop; watch their production next season.
This author is an agribusiness practitioner.