KABANDA CHULU, Lusaka
MANY positive statements have been said about the Zambian Agriculture Technologies (Agritech Expo) forum that is strengthening its position as the biggest agriculture outdoor event in the country.
What started like a dream in 2014, is now offering the best business to technology platforms by bringing together all players in the agriculture industry.
The expo is a new phenomenon being pioneered by the Zambia National Farmers Unions (ZNFU) in collaboration with Golden Valley Agriculture Research Trust (GART) and is organised by Spintelligent of South Africa, with the aim of exposing more local farmers to mechanisation and new technologies.
Four years ago, ZNFU set out on a mission that would help lift the farmer from using hoe-in-hand technology, which is labourious, less productive, to one that will embrace modern agricultural technologies and trigger increased productivity.
Minister of Agriculture Michael Katambo said usage of hoes for cultivation should be relegated to museums and the process of mechanisation should be turned into reality.
“Agritech Expo has challenged us as Government that we should start holding your hands as farmers to help you,” he said.
From humble beginnings, sitting on just above 30,000 square metres of exhibition space, the Agritech Expo has expanded to 70,000 square metres of land, increased foreign pavilions, and local and international exhibitors, and an overwhelming visitor turnout.
ZNFU acting executive director Ellah Chembe said the increased presence of foreign exhibitors and visitors presents an opportunity for farmers, agro-dealers, machinists, agro-technologists and other vendors to learn the best and smart agricultural practices.
“It remains up to the farmers to grasp the opportunity and actualise what they learnt from the expo. We as ZNFU are interested in seeing that farmers uptake these technologies and experiences.
“We have to put into practice these lessons to attain the vision of being a food basket of the region and lifting the poor out of poverty through improved agriculture,” Ms Chembe said.
Now in its fifth season, the Zambian Agritech Expo has become the second largest outdoor agriculture platform for business and agriculture technology interactions on the continent after South Africa.
No doubt, the expo is becoming the best organised outdoor activity in the country with over 22,000 participants, 270 local and international agro-exhibitors showcasing latest equipment for mechanisation and staging of interactive training workshops for farmers and other participants.
It seems the event is the only platform bridging the gap between farmers through access to new crop varieties, chemicals, breeding stock, technologies and mechanisation.
This time around, there was no exhibition of cattle and other livestock species due to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Chisamba and Chibombo districts.
Despite exposure to platforms of this magnitude, the farming community is faced with some challenges hindering them from deriving maximum benefits.
“We need a fresh start. There should be actualisation of policies and programmes, such as unlocking the irrigation fund, the aquaculture fund and the mechanisation fund. Why is it that we have failed to actualise most things that we have said we will do as a country?
“The Agritech Expo opens farmers to solutions on some of the challenges they face. They take these ideas home but they need to tap into resources, which is why these funds have to be unlocked and made available. Eighty percent of Zambian farmers are small-scale, who cannot access loans from banks since they cannot offer collateral,” says ZNFU president Jervis Zimba.
Mr Zimba said the expo offers a platform where policymakers can pick up something.
“When we say a fresh start, we are also talking to policymakers. They should avoid making similar mistakes over and over if the true intention is to grow the country’s agriculture.
“Let us be consultative and not allow the sector to degenerate like in the 1990s and lose all the gains we have made. As farmers, we want to have input in policy direction. The Seventh National Development Plan is a good document but we are failing to stick to it as a country,” Mr Zimba asked.
Officially opening the expo that was held from April 12 to 14, 2018 at GART in Chisamba under the theme ‘Working together to build a stronger Zambian agriculture sector’, President Edgar Lungu said the expo is a manifestation that collective action can result in inclusive growth for all Zambians.
In apparent response to some of the challenges posed by Mr Zimba, the President challenged commercial banks to develop special agriculture finance packages for farmers since Government has provided incentives such as reduced statutory reserve (SRR) ratios and monetary policy rates (MPR) to result in increased liquidity on the market.
President Lungu said there is need for all stakeholders to ensure that agricultural financing is designed to meet the unique characteristics of the sector.
“Therefore, the onus lies with financial institutions to develop specific agriculture finance packages and to assist farmers in restructuring the loans already acquired so as to tailor them to the peculiarities of the sector.
“Our role as Government in agricultural financing shall be to provide incentives such as reduced SRR requirements and MPR that support the development and expansion of financial products,” he said.
Government is aware of the challenges facing agricultural markets in the country such as imports of fresh fruits and vegetables, commodity price fluctuations and is also determined to resolve marketing challenges.
Going forward, Government will continue engaging stakeholders to find sustainable and beneficial solutions for farmers and other players in the value chain.
With seven international pavilions, the Agritech Expo seems to be at the centre of an exciting Zambian agriculture market that needs to be explored.
“Just judging from the big increase in international pavilions at this year’s event that hosted over 100 global companies, the global interest in Zambia as an agro market is obvious.
“Already, there is major international investment in the country at present as well as projects being planned, and if a South African company wants to establish a footprint in Zambia, they need to make sure they grab this business development now before they miss out,” says Agritech Expo commercial director Liam Beckett.
And Sable Farms director Dave Gordon said construction of a dam in Chisamba by Government, with support from the World Bank, is a positive development for the industry.
“The dam will hold 65 million cubic metres of water, which will irrigate up to 5,500 hectares. This is an excellent project since it will allow farming throughout the year for both commercial and small-scale farmers,” he said.
As in previous years, the Agritech Expo enjoyed extensive support from the agro-industry with well-known supplier AFGRI Corporation, the sole John Deere distributor in Zambia, which returned as main sponsor. There were also several other sponsors who contributed massively to the hosting of the expo.
Clearly, platforms such as the Agritech Expo, with technologies on display, are needed if the agriculture sector is to reach the much-aspired levels of attaining food security and meaningful income for the farmers.
KABANDA CHULU, Lusaka