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Youths key to boosting agriculture in Zambia

ZAMBIA’s efforts to diversify to agriculture come with so many setbacks such as access to land ownership, finance, knowledge, inputs, etc.
Agriculture contributes about 20 percent to our gross domestic product (GDP) and 80 percent of that comes from small-scale farmers according to AgriProFocus Zambia 2015 annual report.
Having worked with farmers and personally conducted a survey, the average age of farmers I met was 40 of which 60 to 70 percent of the targeted farmers can hardly read and write. This means the food we currently consume is produced by less literate farmers. This consequently means it cannot be guaranteed for these farmers  to produce enough food to meet the local demand. The shortage in supply usually will result in high food prices.
However, there has been a trend by most employers to raise wages, which to me isn’t a solution (macro-economic reasons) as this will usually lead to a hike in commodity prices.
What would work for Zambia’s agriculture, like in any other average African country, is access to technology in agriculture to reduce costs in production. For example, a lot of farmers still use a hoe or in better instances a plough which was invented about 4,000 years ago.
Zambia has a young population, i.e. the larger number of the population is between the ages of 15-35 years old. Engagement of youths in agriculture would reduce unemployment by over 30 percent, according to the west African summit held in Accra, Ghana, late last year. Their zeal to learn and compete would solve the country’s food crisis. Actually their levels of literacy are higher than the order generation of farmers.
“If it (agriculture) were to get the same political support and financial investment as the mining sector, agriculture would be capable of providing more decent jobs and filling millions more stomachs with nutritious meals,” according to a 2014 UN report on African special report on agriculture.
In order to encourage youth participation (we are talking about people without any work experience), we need to leverage access to finance and land. Banks and microfinance institutions (MFIs) are failing to tap into this potential. For example, the few MFIs I interviewed have annual interest rates varying from 65-89 percent. That’s  unbearable and unfruitful for business. Besides that, they need collateral. This is quite different from our neighbouring countries like Kenya whose interest rates are below 15 percent.
Having said this, capital venture is the way to go for Zambian start-ups. As much as Government seeks foreign investment, it would be smart to attract capital investors to provide financial aid to the agriculture sector. No country has ever been built by foreigners and this is evident. Despite attracting foreign investment, Zambia is still struggling economically. Small businesses have the capacity to reduce the country’s trade balance and create employment at various levels in the value chain. So much money is lost on imports on foodstuffs, according to the report. In Zambia’s horticultural sector, for example, the country imported US$412.6m worth of vegetables and fruits and exported $11m, creating the trade deficit of $401m in 2014-(AgriProFocus 2015).
When is the right time to believe in Zambians? The future is here.
The author is an independent agricultural researcher and metallurgist.