AGRICULTURE

Taking a leaf out of Zambia’s agri-book

Zambian President, Edgar Lungu (left), and Dr Evelyn Nguleka, ZNFU President
Agritech 3.jpg

“It is an over-worn cliché to say that Zambia will one day become the ‘bread basket’ of the region but there is no doubt that, despite of current challenges, the future of Zambia’s farmers, both small and large scale, as suppliers of food products to the region and as drivers of Zambian economic growth, is very positive.” This is according to Rob Munro, Director of Strategy at Musika, a Zambian non-profit company that works to stimulate private sector investment in the smallholder market. 

He explains: “Zambia is struggling with a number of difficult macro-economic challenges at the moment, a power shortage and a drought, all of which affect the farming economy as much as, if not more than, the rest of the business sector. But while the short-term picture is quite tough for Zambian agriculture, there is certainly good news at the ‘big picture’ level---Zambia still has plenty of land and water, a stable political environment and a highly resilient, resourceful and diverse farming community. In an age where food is in ever increasing demand locally, regionally and globally, Zambia is in a good position to take full advantage of its agricultural assets in the future.”

Immediate challenge

He continues: “the most obvious and immediate challenge is the drought that is affecting many parts of the country. This will undoubtedly affect yields and agricultural income, which in turn limits the ability of farmers and agribusiness to invest in the growth of the sector.”  Last year, Munro was quoted as saying that unpredictable agricultural policies, particularly on grain marketing, also constrain the growth of the sector and affect investor confidence. However, at the start of the New Year, he feels that “while the challenges remain, the direction of travel on this, I think, is certainly positive.”

With regard to the current drought conditions, Munro adds that “there has been strong collaboration between public and private sectors on making farmers---particularly smallholder farmers---aware of the impending drought and advising on risk mitigation practices such as planting short season or drought tolerant crop varieties. A particularly good example is the Ministry of Agriculture facilitating the integration of commercially available weather insurance into its innovative ‘e-voucher’ scheme for the delivery of its Farm Input Support Programme through private sector input supply channels.”

Munro says Musika’s “support to the Ministry of Agriculture’s ‘e-voucher’ programme has not only extended subsidised access by smallholder farmers to a wide range of agricultural inputs, but it has also accelerated the growth of the agricultural inputs market significantly in the districts in which it was piloted.”

Another highlight of Musika’s activities last year was its “intensified support to the growth of the agricultural markets in the more isolated regions of northern Zambia. Over the last year, these regions have seen a substantial increase in the number of agribusinesses offering inputs, technology, information and market access to the farmers of the region. This is of particular relevance in a year such as this where the ‘traditional’ Southern and Central agricultural heartlands of Zambia are experiencing drought; in an era in which such climatic challenges will only increase, the growth of the agricultural industry in the high rainfall north can only be a good thing for the country.”

Limitless opportunities

Various local suppliers to the agriculture sector agree with Munro’s optimistic outlook for Zambia.  “The agricultural sector in Zambia is a dynamic sector,” says Pierre Lombard, CEO of NWK Agri-Services in Zambia, “it has its ups and downs. However it remains one of the main contributing sectors to Zambia’s GDP. What makes it exciting is the interest people and companies have in the country and the opportunities to expand and improve on current activities.” 

He adds: “there are thousands of small scale and emerging farmers contributing to the majority of the agricultural output. With help and guidance, they have the potential to grow and increase their contribution and therefore contribute to the development of the agricultural sector as a whole. In short, agricultural opportunities in Zambia are limitless.”

With regard to the drought that Zambia is currently facing Lombard says: “If the country allows for free trade in imports and exports and stability as well as free floating in the Zambian currency, it will mitigate any yield loss by a possible increase in price.”

“Zambia is endowed with a large land resource base of over 40 million hectares of arable land” says Michael Bentley, Dealer Principal, Action Auto in Zambia “and the country is abundant with water resources, having 40% of the water in central and southern Africa. This means Zambia has unimaginable opportunities for food production to feed the entire Sub-Saharan region!”

Susan Mennell, MD at CFAO Zambia Limited, says “with the poor copper prices and mine closures Zambia is going to look to the agricultural sector for more exports.  Zambia is able to produce excellent crops and excesses can be exported.”

Exposure to technology

In 2014 a small team of Spintelligent, an events company based in Cape Town, took a massive leap of faith with partners ZNFU (Zambia National Farmers Union) and Musika, and launched, the Agritech Expo, the first outdoor agri trade expo in the country at the GART Research Centre in the heart of Zambia’s agriculture community in Chisamba. An immediate success with the farming community, last year’s second edition drew more than 11 700 visitors, over 100 exhibitors and 150 members of the press. VIP visitors included the country’s President, Edgar Lungu, Inonge Wina (the Vice-President), the Zambian and German Agriculture Ministers and many other dignitaries and agriculture experts.

“The President’s visit was a very significant boost, as it gave the much needed political buy-in especially going forward,” says Dr Evelyn Nguleka, ZNFU President. She adds: “It is gratifying to note that the expo had support from farmers, agri-business firms and policy makers.” 

Munro says before Agritech Expo, Zambia never had a means by which the whole agricultural community, from smallholder farmer to corporate agri-business, was able to come together to see, understand and invest in new technology. “In my opinion, Agritech Expo has been hugely influential in exposing the community to this technology and driving forwards the advancement of modern farming in Zambia.”

Innovation
This year in April Agritech Expo expects to welcome some 15 000 farming professionals from emerging to small holder to commercial farmers, and agriculture experts, to Chisamba. Liam Beckett, event director of the event says it is a unique opportunity for them to share best practice, get training, test and try out new products and technologies and brainstorm about current challenges such as productivity and competitiveness as well as the effects of current adverse weather conditions.

“We continue to innovate and offer our partners and visitors more technology, demonstrations, free workshops and specialised zones to learn and opportunities to do business. We will have 130 exhibitors, including some of the leading international suppliers to the agriculture industry, 20 live crop trials and 11 machinery demonstration fields. There will also be an extended livestock zone, an irrigation zone, an SME business zone, 4x4 test track, a sprayers arena and technical and practical workshops for emerging farmers as well as VIP business lounges for commercial players.

“Energy is a constant challenge in this sector and we want to show the farming community the different options that there are available at Agritech Expo’s exciting new ‘Energy Park’,” says Beckett.

Already Zanaco from the Zambia National Commercial Bank has confirmed that it is returning as the exclusive diamond sponsor of the event.  Other big names in the farming sector that will be there are AFGRI, JCB and John Deere, who are platinum sponsors, and Action Auto, Livestock Services, SARO and Zamseed, all gold sponsors.

Outreach programme

Meanwhile, more than 540 students and 17 teachers at the Golden Valley Basic School in Chisamba are already reaping the benefits of the Agritech Expo Outreach Programme that was launched last year. The school is situated on the GART Research Centre where the annual expo takes place, and the event organisers decided to raise funds to assist the school with much needed building renovations, equipment supply and management of the school’s farm. The Outreach Programme is an on-going project and the next phase is already underway.

Looking at the current agriculture situation in Zambia, it becomes apparent that agriculture challenges in Africa can be overcome---providing that collaboration among the farming communities, Government and the private sector takes place---and other African countries could take a leaf out of the book of the Zambean agriculture sector.

Annemarie Roodbol

 

More about Agritech Expo
Date: 14-16 April 2016
Venue: GART Research Centre, Chisamba, Zambia
More info: www.agritech-expo.com

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