Analysis: GODFRIDAH CHANDA
THE Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP) 2017-2021 has acknowledged the agriculture sector as being the fourth largest contributor to gross domestic product (GDP), contributing about 8.7 percent and accounting for over 60 percent employment creation.
The sector therefore remains critical to achieving economic diversification, growth and poverty reduction in Zambia. Family agriculture is the backbone of the rural economy and thus holds great potential for modernisation due to its predominance.
In addition, the Zambia and UNESCO 2016 annual report has indicated that statements made by politicians and government officials point to the fact that agriculture still remains vital to Zambia’s economy.
Besides ensuring food security, the sector is a great source of employment and a vital vehicle for improved rural livelihood. Furthermore, the Zambia Investor road map 2018 recognises that agriculture and its value chains has potential to contribute immensely to the transformation of the country and ultimately alleviate poverty especially in rural areas.
Despite its huge potential the agricultural sector has failed to attain significant growth due to numerous challenges. One of them is access to market for farm produce to support sustainable growth of the small-scale farming sub-sector. The cause of this challenge could be attributed to poor state of feeder roads leading to wastage of products, lack of access to communication infrastructure and lack of proper storage facilities.
To mitigate these challenges affecting small scale farmers, Government has come up with a number of services, programs and policies to support the sector. One such support service is the construction of a Lusaka Regional Trade Centre by the Zambia Cooperative Federation (ZCF). The Trade Centre being constructed at a cost of US$7 million has two trading centres and a 1,386 square metres cold warehouse facility for the storage of bulk perishable commodities. This concept of handling all types of agricultural produce ensures that all categories of farmers are catered for in terms of storage facility. At construction stage the trade centre has created over 400 jobs.
It is indisputable that the construction of this centre will be a learning curve and a model for all the trading centres that are yet to be built in each province.
The onus remains on farmers who need to take advantage of this facility especially the vulnerable small-scale farmers as Government continues to provide an enabling business environment to ensure sustainable growth of the agriculture sector.
This initiative aims at removing the uncertainty producers have over market availability.
The centre will buy commodities in bulk from farmers through their cooperatives and supply to would be consumers or traders. Upon delivery the farmers will be paid 80 percent of the value and the remaining 20 percent to be paid when goods are finally sold.
Touring the facility recently, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry, Mrs Kayula Siame commended the platform as being an organised and efficient market. Mrs Siame added that through this platform, farmers will no longer be negotiating with traders individually, as this will now be the function of the Trade Centre. She said farmers will have adequate information on the prices of agricultural produce through the digital pricing board.
She further explained that the initiative will ease procedures of doing business and will create transparency in business.
The Permanent Secretary pledged to continue working together with ZCF and encouraged management to integrate issues of quality for the produce to be acceptable at both local and foreign markets. She highlighted some agencies in the ministry that look into quality assurance such as Zambia Metrology Agency (ZMA), Zambia Bureau of Standards (ZABS) and Zambia Compulsory Standards (ZCSA), she assured ZCF that agencies will be on site to carry out test when needed.
ZCF director general, Mr James Chirwa said that the Trade Centre under construction will create a great opportunity for producers to offload their farm produce at the site without any engagement with consumers. He said the trade centre will create specialisation in the agriculture production value chain.
The author is Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry public relations officer.
Analysis: GODFRIDAH CHANDA