CHAMBO NG’UNI, Kabwe
AS AN agrarian region, Central Province is one of the provinces that have been identified for their potential to contribute to the overall national economy.
The province is recording good results in the production of maize, wheat, soya beans, Virginia tobacco, popcorn, seed maize, burley tobacco and cotton compared to other regions.
During the 2017/2018 farming season, Central Province performed well in maize, soya beans, popcorn, wheat and sweet potato production.
Production of cotton, groundnuts, Virginia tobacco, cowpeas and burley tobacco was also good.
Such positive results are attributed to favourable climatic conditions, arable land, fertile soils, good agricultural practices among commercial, emerging and small-scale farmers as well as favourable policies and agro-programmes.
There is, however, lack of value addition because of a gap in investment in agro-processing.
Central Province senior field officer Gabriel Mangisha says the central region of Zambia is a natural agriculture zone as can be seen from its level and quality of crop production.
“That’s why we are saying there is need for value addition by Government or other economic entities to invest in agro-processing,” Mr Mangisha said in an interview.
He further says the campaign for increased crop production and diversification should be backed by major investments in agro-processing to facilitate value addition.
“There is need for value addition. We need to come up with viable industries to add value to our produce. By so doing, we will be employing a lot of people in the value addition chain,” Mr Mangisha says.
The number of small-scale farmers in Central Province growing crops like tomatoes is on the increase, but a gap exists in terms of value addition.
There is also no investment in cold storage facilities to prolong the shelf life of cash crops.
As it is with seasonal fruits like mangos and guavas, tomatoes also go to waste because of challenges of storage.
“We need agro-processing facilities that will take up the excess of this crop that goes to waste so that there can be production of tomato paste and tomato jam,” Mr Mangisha says.
“So agro-processing is the way to go to realise the much needed economic growth in Central Province and also increase job creation for the youths and marginalised women.”
For crops like maize, soya beans and cotton, value addition exists through the production of commodities like mealie meal, stock feed and cooking oil.
The Kabwe Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) appreciates the availability of raw materials in Central Province to feed into the agro-processing industry.
KCCI vice president Thomas Muwowo says this presents an opportunity for potential investors to pump their money into the agro-processing industry.
Mr Muwowo says investment in agro-processing is critical in crop diversification, increasing crop production, the creation of jobs and poverty reduction.
“Value addition is important because it helps to empower farmers to get better value for their produce. And value addition will empower and motivate farmers to produce more,” he says.
He says it is encouraging that the number of small-scale tomato farmers in Mkushi, Chisamba and Chibombo districts is increasing steadily.
“We would like a situation where investors are coming and setting up factories that will be adding value here in Zambia and in this way, we are creating jobs and not exporting jobs,” Mr Muwowo says.
Mr Muwowo also implores banks to fund local entrepreneurs so that they could become major players in the agro-processing industry.
Further, he says partnerships between Zambian and foreign investors should be encouraged in agro-processing to facilitate technology and knowledge transfer in value addition.
The Zambia National Farmers’ Union (ZNFU) adds that as an agriculture hub, Central Province needs to have its own agro processing industry.
“Value addition is key and this is long overdue,” ZNFU president Jervis Zimba says. “We also need to diversify.”
Mr Zimba, however, observes that for the soya beans and wheat produced in abundance in Central Province, there has been an increase of investments in value addition.
He says while having a home-grown agro-processing industry is the way to go, Government needs to protect the local industry from unfair competition created by imported foreign products.
ZNFU feels that allowing imported products such as edible oils without restrictions is posing a threat to the local processing industry.
“As long as the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry are not moving in tandem with farmers, value addition will not be achieved,” Mr Zimba notes.
Other than mining, agriculture is one of the main drivers of economic growth in Zambia and the sector’s contribution to gross national product is quite significant.
Pres iden t Edgar Lungu underscores that Government has created a favourable environment to facilitate investment in agro-processing.
Promoting value addition to agriculture products, Mr Lungu says, is in line with Government’s policy of crop diversification.
“Central Province is the country’s leading agriculture hub with massive opportunities in horticulture, livestock, fisheries and commercial crop production. It is also key in securing national food security,” Mr Lungu said recently at the Central Province Investment Forum and Expo.
The President observed that it is encouraging that companies like Mount Meru, which is producing cooking oil, has invested US$ 50 million in the said venture.
The investment by Mount Meru has created 750 jobs, while 2,500 farmers have been engaged in out-grower schemes.
Government is connecting rural areas to electricity, working on roads, and installing communication towers to promote investments in economies of rural areas.
“Value addition can’t be achieved without electricity and without roads,” President Lungu notes.
CHAMBO NG’UNI, Kabwe