Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO
WHEN I am bombarded by economic jargons in the capital city, Lusaka, I travel to the rural areas of the country to see how the terminologies are being interpreted on the ground.Last week, I spent time in Gwembe and Sinazongwe districts of Southern Province just to catch up with recent economic developments in the area.
Sinazongwe is fascinating because this is a district powered by three sectors; coal mining, fishing and agriculture.
It also has potential to contribute to tourism development if roads leading to Lake Kariba, the biggest man-made lake, are worked on.
Coal has been mined in Sinazongwe, starting from Nkandabbwe when the area was flooded with water, Siankondobbo, which changed to national coal board and finally Maamba.
Maamba Collieries Limited (MCL) was for a long time a parastatal company under the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM).
But during an economic recession, ZCCM could no longer afford to run the mines and was forced to unbundle – selling some and putting entities such as Maamba on receivership.
Before Nava Bharat, the Singaporean firm Nava Bharat (Singapore) Pte Limited running Maamba, BMCL and Bencon took turns in operating the mine.
Maamba, the largest coal mining concession by Nava Bharat, commissioned the only coal-fired thermal power plant in Zambia in July 2016.
The thermal plant, which produces 300 megawatts a month, has adopted a modern eco-friendly mining and processing method.
The largest independent power producer caters for the growing demand for power and accounts for over 10 percent of the generation capacity, thereby contributing to the energy security and economic development of the nation.
Through the power plant, Nava Bharat has revived the economic fortunes of Sinazongwe by employing directly about 100 miners and hundreds through sub-contractors.
Collum Coal Mining Industries Limited has also added to the economy of Sinazongwe by running the Nkandabbwe Mine.
Unlike MCL, Nkandabbwe is yet to make significant impact in Sinazongwe as the infrastructure and environment around the mine leaves much to be desired.
With Nava Bharat having raised the bar high in Maamba township, it is irresistible to compare with the ramshackle township CCMIL oversees in Nkandabbwe.
There is, however, room for CCMIL to make amends by improving the environment and working conditions.
In its state, Nkandabbwe is a mine between villages which does not give Collum the corporate image it deserves.
But fish trading has also empowered many people in Sinazongwe as buses and other vehicles headed for Choma and beyond start leaving the town around 05:00 hours.
The Lusaka-bound buses begin leaving Sinazongwe around 16:00 hours with loads of bags of kapenta.
There are over 700 rigs in Lake Kariba from 200 fishing camps that employ thousands of people and their buying power is felt in Sinazeze.
Agriculture is also a money-spinner in the coal mining town.
Farmers in Sinazongwe work very hard but deserve decent trading places to trade from.
Crocodile farming is another business venture, which has potential to bring foreign exchange to the town.
There are three big crocodile farmers in Sinazongwe, with the one in Siansowa being the second largest crocodile farm in central Africa.
People in Sinazongwe enjoy crocodile products such as meat and sausages, which are said to have medicinal properties.
Agricultural and fish products are found along the Lusaka–Livingstone highway, demonstrating the people’s desire to emancipate themselves from poverty.
Beef, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, milk and vegetables are in large supply at Batoka, which is in need of upgrading.
Elsewhere, fish is sold along the Lusaka–Livingstone highway between Mazabuka and Monze, and between Mazabuka and Kafue.
It is evident that the fish vendors are in need of marketing skills as well as refrigeration facilities to make their trade more viable.
It may also be prudent to start teaching the youths who sell fish aquaculture so that they can be falling back on the same during lean times such as the fishing ban and when the stocks are depleted in the Kafue River.
They could start keeping fish in cages along the river like some of their colleagues in Siavonga are doing.
Gwembe’s economic fortunes still look dim, but the increase in the number of buses to Chipepo where the Lake Kariba harbour is, is encouraging.
Not long ago, people travelled to Chipepo by vans.
Things started changing in 2013 following a horrific accident involving pupils from Chipepo Secondary School on the 17 hills.
Since then, buses have been going to Chipepo via Munyumbwe.
Non-governmental organisations such as Heifer International, in conjunction with Vision Fund and Mayfair Insurance, are working hard to bring out the business acumen in farmers.
WaterAID, too, worked there to improve water and sanitation while Adra, through Glassco Foundation, has tremendously helped the community to construct primary schools, both along and off Bottom Road, health facilities and boreholes.
But the master stroke has been the Bottom Road, which runs from Njame in Chirundu to Munyumbwe as people prefer to use it going to Siavonga or Livingstone and other towns since it is a shorter route.
The discovery of coal in Gwembe may be the game changer.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.
Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO