Editor's Comment

Private sector-driven agro scheme great

water irrigation of potato field on sunny day

THE planned private sector-led input support scheme to benefit 120 commercial and 250,000 small-scale farmers is a huge initiative, which if well managed will change the agricultural landscape in Zambia.
About US$55 million will be channelled to fertiliser while US$26 million will be invested in value addition (of wheat and soya bean), stock feed and expansion of silos.
The programme is part of a broader plan by African Green Resources (AGR) and several local, African and global partners to invest US$150 million in Zambia to develop an irrigation dam, a 50 megawatt (MW) solar farm, expansion of existing silo capacity at a farming complex by 80,000 tonnes and establishment of a value addition food complex.
It is a very important development for the country.
Currently, small-scale farmers are being serviced by the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) to the exclusion of commercial farmers.
FISP has been driven by Government, benefitting about one million small-scale farmers countrywide. Despite the country recording bumper harvests back to back, FISP has its own challenges because small-scale farmers have not graduated.
Besides that, small-scale farmers have also been victims of climate variations.
Climate change requires farmers – small-scale or commercial – to ply agriculture not as business as usual. It should be done differently.
Farmers need to strictly adhere to conservation agriculture practices (minimum tillage, crop rotation and crop residue, mulching) and precision farming.
Therefore, the private sector-led input support scheme is surely an important initiative in driving the diversification programme.
Efforts to successfully diversify the economy from copper to agriculture in particular have not been very effective owing to the funding model for farmers that in itself created huge levels of dependency among small-scale farmers.
Diversification is not only about getting farmers to plant and grow various crops; it is about farmers taking agriculture as a business from which they earn worthwhile incomes.
What the country has witnessed is that the FISP is a moral hazard, with farmers treating it as a subsidy and social support from Government.
As a result, the level of attention for increasing productivity per hectare is very weak.
The Ministry of Agriculture may wish to know that Malawian peasant farmers are twice more productive per hectare than Zambian farmers mainly because the private sector’s involvement in funding agriculture is high.
The private sector-led scheme will plug the deficiencies inherent with the government-driven FISP like corruption, ghost beneficiaries, favouritism, inefficiency and delays, among others.
Benefits of the private sector-led scheme will include calculated economic farming model supporting the borrowing with repayment, efficient processing of applications and delivery of inputs, as well as elimination of aforementioned ills prevalent with FISP.
The private sector-led scheme is an assumed backward and forward integration of value chain enabling enhanced capacity for farmers and better market for the produce.
This shall enable growth of participants, enabling graduation to a higher level of economic being, as opposed to the current perpetually FISP-dependent subsistence farmers.
There is anticipated growth of the seed money if well managed and, therefore, wider and more benefits.
Therefore, this initiative should focus on those farmers who can demonstrate capacity to stand on their own, and pay back with interest if that is what the model requires.
For now, farmers are waiting on the promoters to learn on the mode of financing; where will these farmers be and how will they be identified? At what rate will they be borrowing if there is some repayment to be made? Will there be requirement of collateral? Is the same company going to be purchasing the produce?

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