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Why Zambia has capacity to feed the region

THE theme for the 5th Zambia International Investment Forum (ZIIF) last week was “Investment for Industrialisation, wealth and job creation”.
It is a topic both timely and highly appropriate for the times we are in as a people and a country. It clearly reflects the long-term strategy that is needed in order to achieve sustainable growth and economic prosperity for all.
When I spoke at the forum last week, I said that Zambia needed to diversify its economy and stop being so dependent on the mining sector as a source of growth, development and employment.
As Zambia looks to diversify its economy, it should look to the opportunities presented within the country. The prospects are extensive in the tourism and manufacturing sectors, as well as technology, but for me the real key to our economic prosperity lies in agriculture and agri-processing.
It is something I passionately care about, not least because I am certain that it is possible for our nation to become an agribusiness powerhouse, feeding not only the nation, but also the whole region.
I say this because the opportunities are there, and Zambia has huge advantages.
Zambia is advantaged in that it is endowed with numerous natural resources that make it a unique country for agriculture; and the world is beginning to take notice. It has in abundance: fertile land, water resources, a vast pool of small-scale farmers and outgrowers, and a conducive climate. The continued enabling business environment is an added advantage and remains vital in attracting investments, both local and foreign.
Investment is a critical part in ensuring the development and industrialisation of the agriculture sector. This will enable the country to become more efficient and productive in agro-processing particularly.
The Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) is 700,000 members strong; imagine how much can be accomplished with 700,000 dedicated farmers having access to a vibrant agro-processing industry.
Zambia must believe in its own capability to become a major food production hub in the region and recognise where its strength lies. There are several examples of successful agro-processing operations worldwide and Africa in particular.
Zambeef is very passionate about agriculture and agro-processing. The group is pioneering some of the most industrialised operations in the country such as Zamhatch in Mpongwe, Novatek Animal Feeds and Zampalm in Muchinga Province.
Zambeef has one of the largest row cropping operations in Zambia, with 8,120 hectares irrigated and 8,480 hectares of rain-fed, arable, developed land available for planting each year. The double cropping opportunity on irrigated crop means Zambeef can grow up to 24,720 hectares a year. In 2015, we produced 40,000 tonnes of soya beans; 45,000 tonnes of wheat and 22,000 tonnes of maize.
Our farming operations compare with the best farms in the famous mid-West of America, using the same satellites and precision farming technology to optimise yields; And here in Zambia it is all achieved with non-GMO seed.
Zampalm and its outgrower scheme will contribute to the substitution of the 70,000 tonnes of edible oil currently imported into this country every year, saving Zambia around US$70 million in foreign exchange outflows every year. This can then be channelled towards creating industries fully capable of competing in the region which will result in further income generation, investment and job creation in the country as the multiplier effects take on.
That industrialisation needs investment, and that investment will only be forthcoming if there is a real promise of generating a return.
With our advantages Zambia can offer that return, by improving efficiencies and becoming more competitive, enabling the country to take advantage of those regional market opportunities.
Zambia’s focus should be regional; start inward then grow outward. While Zambia is self-sufficient in most food crops, the SADC and COMESA regions each present numerous opportunities with an estimated combined population of 700 million people.
With the adverse climatic effect on neighbouring countries’ crops this year, Zambia has suffered less of the impact.
Why are we watching a daily stream of trucks driving up the Great North Road carrying produce from South Africa to the Democratic Republic of Congo? We should be ashamed, when Zambia has the capability to meet that demand.
There is therefore a need to invest in industrialisation to ensure that the opportunities in the agriculture sector are realised and to make Zambia more competitive in the region. Only then will we have economic growth and job creation. And there is no better time for us to start than now.
The author is joint chief executive officer of Zambeef Products Plc