Analysis: FELIX TEMBO
IT IS a public secret that Zambia enjoys an agribusiness comparative advantage over its neighbours in the region. We are blessed with favourable climate, good environment and relatively potential â€˜availableâ€™ market for most of the agro-products.
This is a country that has a youthful population with about 60 percent of the population under 40 years.
We are not like certain economies that are now grappling with an aging population (the baby boomers).
However, having potential is nothing if we canâ€™t transform it into the competitive advantage to attain the competitive edge.
I should hasten to mention that we have done relatively well in the last decade or so though it is not good enough.
The areas that we are lacking so much are technology, energy and infrastructure, including marketing infrastructure.
Most of our agriculture is practised in the rural areas that lack the basic infrastructure like roads, communication (internet, phone, railway, and air), manufacturing and others.
We have scored quite well in the last 20 years to try and open up the rural areas.
To everyoneâ€™s satisfaction, this has of late seen an influx of investments in the agriculture and trade sectors.
We are now talking of having about 12 or so fertiliser companies, eight seed companies, over 20 agrochemical companies with so many traders, over 10 processors, so many commodity traders and several transporters.
This is very good for our agribusiness industry. I think in the region, we could be second or third to South Africa in terms of development of our agribusiness sector.
However, we all know that 40 percent of the water found in Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries are in Zambia.
We have four big lakes, five large rivers, so many lagoons, swamps and streams.
With all this potential, it beats me to learn that we have utilised about one percent of irrigable land.
We only boast of Nakambala as the largest flood irrigation scheme with Mkushi farm block being first in overhead irrigation in the country.
This is a huge opportunity we need to explore if we are to attain real competitive edge in crop production.
There is no reason why we should only become so busy with farming in October and become docile certain months of the year; we are losing money.
Though we have encouraged good investment in input supply, we have not done well in secondary and tertiary industries.
It is good to learn that we may have three more companies in the fertiliser industry, two agrochemical and seed companies before the end of the year.
I am saddened to see Zambian agribusiness companies fold up because they fail to compete on price and quality from products coming from South Africa.
We have not perfected our agriculture well because of some factors mentioned in this article.
I remember in one of my articles this year, I wrote that the first time I saw very good looking potatoes was at Johannesburg fresh market in 2007.
However, Buyabamba and its out-growers are able to match that quality because they have access to good inputs such as seed, chemicals and many others.
What I donâ€™t know is the average yields attained.
However, we canâ€™t see investment in secondary industries such as those cutting the potatoes into chips ready to be fried.
We still see some fast food companies importing chips from South Africa.
Many of us have been compelling the government to ban the importation of chips from South Africa.
The only alternative we have not provided is where the fast food companies are going to be buying already processed chips ready to be fried.
The only way is to avail finance so that these companies can set up such upstream industries in that value chain.
We need competition in agribusiness industry if this sector is to tick.
Therefore, let our trade advisors at most of the embassies and commissions worldwide sell the â€˜potentialâ€™ in the agribusiness sector.
We as Zambians should also jump on this trek so that we invest in agriculture, especially after the energy sector is sorted out.
We can invest in cloth-making factories unlike exporting lint to China.
May I please ask the proprietor of Dangote Cement that the next time he is in Zambia, please invite me to meet him; he is one of the few practical Africans around.
I know he has set up a tomato processing factory in Abuja, Nigeria, and he is negotiating to set up a fertiliser manufacturing plant in Nigeria.
I like his practical approach to business; no wonder he is the richest black African.
Well done Dangote, you should still do more in Zambia.
The author is an agribusiness practitioner.
Analysis: FELIX TEMBO