Development Features

Is agriculture in Zambia profitable?

CASUSAL workers stacking up sacks of Irish Potatoes for transportation to Lusaka. The Potatoes are imported from Tanzania. PICTURE: BRIAN MALAMA.

A business is any activity, enterprise, firm or company in which goods and services are exchanged for one another or for money. What is important to note is that in any business there is a form of investment and customers to whom its outputs can be sold in order to make a profit. Therefore, with this definition, agriculture qualifies to be a business in Zambia because people make investments in form of inputs and there are people and firms that buy the outputs.
If the environment is anything to go by, agriculture is supposed to be the biggest industry in Zambia. This is because we literally have everything that is needed for effective agricultural investment; in business terms we enjoy the comparative advantages more than any other country in the region.
The industry is supposed to be contributing more to our GDP than even mining.
Straight to the point, agriculture in Zambia is a profitable business depending on how one chooses to conduct it. Just like any other business; its profitability depends with the level of business planning and execution. I have seen some farmers that have started from scratch and have made a fortune, so have I seen people that have failed tremendously.
The biggest challenge with our agriculture in Zambia is that we sometimes choose the wrong enterprises to venture into; by saying so, I mean that we don’t conduct our market research so thoroughly. For instance; we normally would only want to venture into an enterprise when we hear that someone got good returns the previous season.
By the time we try it, there could have been so many people growing the crop, hence the low prices (the law of supply and demand).
However, one of the biggest problems I have noted which we don’t do very well after the market research is the production.
We always want to produce the crops with the least inputs and want to get the best yields. They say ‘garbage in, garbage out’. You cannot expect to get 4.5mt/ha of yield from DINA seed if you used recycled seed but when you use fresh seed bought from a recognized distributor or the producers of the seed, you will have an 80 percent likelihood of attaining such yields.
Secondly, I have seen farmers buy certified seed, fertilisers and then wait until they see the weeds coming out before they start to weed. I have always mentioned on this platform that the best weed management can be attained when we do it before the weeds germinate.
Mind you, the greatest loss that we get in Zambia from our production comes from poor weed management. Weeds are thieves or ‘plunderers’ that are not supposed to be entertained in our fields at all costs.
If we can manage our production and have reasonable yields, such as at least having to achieve over 70 percent of the potential yields, our commodities will be competitive; they will attain a competitive edge serve for other factors like infrastructure.
Have you ever wondered why soybeans from Brazil are cheaper than our own soybeans grown at Chipata at Kasumbalesa or millers in Lusaka? Or why the maize from USA is cheaper than the maize from Mkushi or Choma? I know many of us will think it is because production is highly subsidized in those countries.
That reasoning is partly right, but the major reason is that the farmers from those countries have perfected their production techniques by using the right inputs at the right time, and the support systems such as government policies favours them. Suffice to say agriculture is a profitable business if we apply ourselves properly as business people.
I know there are a lot of constraints as compared to our colleagues in the developed countries but those challenges should be opportunities that we need to harness.
My fellow farmer, agriculture is the only business which is renewable. Mining is an industry that is exhausted; you can’t go back after years to mine the same minerals in the same environment.
Some of you that have lived in Kabwe will agree with me that Kabwe used to be an economically vibrant town before 1993. It was because of a well-developed mining industry. If you go to Kabwe today, you will be very brave if you will not shed a few tears – it is a sorry sight, especially the famous mining compounds. Agriculture, therefore, is a profitable business indeed.
The author is an Agribusiness Practitioner.  Call 0977141172 or email

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