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Agriculture: From copper to cows, a Zambian move

Posted on Monday, 14 December 2015 10:15

The closure of Glencore’s facility in Mopani is the most visible expression of the pain the Copperbelt is feeling. Barrick, too, has debated mothballing mines. Vedanta’s Zambian operation has put nearly 300 miners on leave.

Industrialisation anchored on agriculture is the fastest way to achieve poverty reduction [and] wealth creation

The Zambian government’s finances are in a parlous state, too. Fitch Ratings explains: “The ambitious fiscal consolidation plan in Zambia’s 2016 budget will prove challenging due to its reliance on raising revenue rather than cutting expenditure”.

But these are also difficult days for Denson Chisi, a 65-year-old maize farmer in Mumbwa. High fertiliser prices and more drought after a difficult 2014/2015 season have hurt his production.

Chisi had traded in his shovel for a hoe: he worked as a labourer in the mining sector in Kitwe for 36 years prior to his beginnings in agriculture. He is one of the 1.1 million poor farmers receiving government support in terms of inputs and a ready market for maize.

Jervis Zimba, a veteran farmer, argues that agricultural subsidies are inconsequential: “Agriculture in this country is abnormally taxed. It’s a miracle farmers survive in this country. If only we could get a quarter of the incentives given to the mines, Zambia would instantly become Africa’s breadbasket and we could forever forget about copper mining.”

For more than 40 years, Zambia has touted, without success, the need to diversify its sources of foreign exchange. Copper mining accounts for 68% of the government’s total receipts, but Lusaka is now promoting sectors like agriculture and tourism.

In August, agriculture minister Given Lubinda said that the government is focused on developing agriculture to diversify the economy and to make a dent in high poverty levels, which reach 61% in some rural areas. “Industrialisation anchored on agriculture is the fastest way to achieve poverty reduction [and] wealth creation,” said Lubinda.

Beefing up

Agriculture, which is mostly maize growing, is the second-largest contributor to gross domestic product, at 20.7%. Attempts to diversify Zambia’s agriculture base into wheat and beef production have produced results.

The Zambian beef sector has been seen as a huge success. Local company Zambeef has expanded its operations to Nigeria and Ghana and has started exporting prime cuts to Angola and Mauritius.

Zambeef is a diversified agribusiness firm but has started narrowing its focus by selling off its interest in chicken-processing business Zam Chick in 2013 and in the Zamanita edible oil manufacturing plant this February. Zambeef is trying to strengthen its position given the arrival of German cattle company Amatheon Agri in 2012.

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