LAST week I received a call from a concerned citizen who wanted to know whether agricultural development in our country is on the right track.
Wanting to know other peopleâ€™s views I posed the same question at him. He gave me answers, some of which I never thought of. I appreciated his views, they were so knowledgeable and I wish he could share those with the policy-makers that are driving agriculture in this country.
I also have my own views which could be right and or wrong; it depends on which context you are viewing them from. Let me share some of them in this column although most of them could have been shared already in my previous articles.
There are two sides of this same story but let me start from the positive view. For those that have closely followed agriculture from the first republic, you will agree with me that we had taken a bias towards maize production. You will agree with me that in Zambia, when one talked of agriculture, he or she means maize production save for our friends from Southern Province that integrate with animal rearing.
I was watching an interview on ZNBC television where one former minister for Southern Province was boasting that at some point his maize production was more than what was produced in Luapula and North-western provinces combined.
Indeed, we have mastered so well the art of growing maize such that in a difficult year like this one, we are the only country in the region with a surplus.
We have seen maize production on the increase from several hundred thousand tonnes some few years ago to a couple of million tones. In the same vein, we have also seen the improvements and increased production in other relatively new crops such as soya bean.
About four years ago, soya bean was only grown by commercial farmers. I remember some people refusing to eat it that it smells but today, we get most our oil from soya bean.
Additionally, we are also getting other food items like milk, the famous nyamasoya and many things, too, from soya bean.
We are also seeing areas that never used to rear cattle valuing the importance of cattle; such provinces like Luapula and Northern provinces. Between 1992 to about 1999, our productivity for maize had slumped to a tonne per hectare but currently, it is slowly rising to between two and 2.5 for the small-scale.
Additionally, we have seen investments from large multinational input suppliers such as Syngenta, BASF, Bayer, Amiran, NWK and commodity traders too.
Five years ago, it was unheard of for companies to provide leverage funding to small-scale farmers; they always wanted collateral first.
Today, as long as I have a field and growing either maize, soya bean or any other crop, I can walk into an agro-lending institution such as AFGRI, NWK and get a loan for a tractor.
We have seen some input suppliers providing short-term credit facilities to small-scale farmers. This is a right step in the right direction and I hope the farmers will not disappoint as used to be the case with Lima Bank.
On the other hand, I still feel that the productivity level of less than three tonnes for maize is not good enough as well as less than a tonne for both soya bean and groundnuts.
Additionally, the financial institutions need to come on board and provide financing to this sector. They have concentrated only in providing loans at expensive rates to the people in the formal sector of which most of us end up buying assets such as cars that are not productive.
Banks are â€œkillingâ€ over clients especially those that work in government and quasi-government institutions. Some of them have devised even bad marketing strategies such as â€œdog-to-dogâ€ competition.
Additionally, it beats me to see a very weak manufacturing sector. We have only seen a few companies that are processing oil and a few like Zambeef that have taken a complete value chain approach which is very good for us.
Actually, in the agribusiness sector, it is only Zambeef that has really taken the challenge seriously. If you go to Zimbabwe, you donâ€™t find some of these chain stores that are here.
The Zimbabweans own their economy. I would love to see a very strong agribusiness manufacturing base in our country. In fact we had started quite well with former President Kenneth Kaunda when we had companies that were producing products such as Tarino, Kafue Chitenge, Mwinilunga cannery, Mwinilunga cannery, Mongu mango and tomato pulp plant and many others.
We also need to wake up when it comes to generation of power; how can industries invest in manufacturing when you donâ€™t even have enough power to run an ITT radio? Zesco, I donâ€™t agree with you when you said investing in solar will be too expensive.
Kindly rework your cost benefit analysis and just donâ€™t be lazy in that comfort zone. We are on the right track but what is worrying is the pulse. Letâ€™s talk irrigation next week.
The author is an agribusiness practitioner.Â