Does Zambia have what it takes to become the food bowl of Africa?
ABC | 1 April 2016

Does Zambia have what it takes to become the food bowl of Africa?

By Caroline Winter

Zambia says it has all the ingredients to be the food bowl of Africa, but how does it turn that dream into reality?
It offers large expanses of arable land and an abundance of water, but bringing farming into the 21st century and dealing with poverty remain massive hurdles.
So the nation is selling itself as a peaceful and democratic place to do business and is throwing its doors wide open to foreign investors.
Zambia's Agriculture Minister Given Lubinda wants to capitalise on what his nation has to offer.
"There is no country in the sub-region that is as endowed as Zambia is," he said.
"We have 752,614 square kilometres of land and 60 per cent of that is arable land. We're also a small population, a population of only 15 million people.
"So you can imagine we can share more than one hectare each of arable land.
"Also 40 per cent of the water in the sub-region is domiciled in Zambia. All year round you can grow crops."
In an effort to achieve its long-term goal, the Zambian Government is welcoming any overseas venture willing to invest with up to 10,000 hectares of unsettled, highly fertile land to establish farming and processing activities.
As part of the deal, Zambian farmers will be allocated 90,000 hectares to produce and sell to the investor.
"I know there's a shortage of land in many parts of the world, but that is not our challenge; I know there's a shortage of water in many parts of the world, but that's not our challenge," Mr Lubinda said.
"Our challenge is investment. There are many people out there who have investment capacity.
"Let them come and invest in Zambia, particularly in the agricultural sector of Zambia."
China in the cross-hairs
Mr Lubinda particularly has China in his sights.
"There are many Chinese companies that have come into Zambia and set up farms in Zambia," he said.
"They have set up processing factories, agri-processing factories, and the population of China is very hungry for food commodities that cannot be grown in large quantities, sufficient quantities in China.
"China are [sic] looking for places elsewhere from which to grow the required food for their population.
"We see Zambia being one of the countries being able to provide that land and that possibility for Chinese agricultural production, and we're encouraging that."
Eventually the government wants its current subsidy system phased out and replaced by a privately-led agriculture sector.
That sector is already starting to emerge. Enter AGCO.
The manufacturer and distributor of agricultural equipment has established what it has called a Future Farm on the outskirts of the Zambian capital, Lusaka.
Sprawled across 150 hectares of land is a range of demonstration crops, agricultural machinery and training facilities aimed at educating Zambian farmers for the future.
From hoes to combine harvesters
Nuradin Osman is managing director of AGCO's Africa and Middle East region.
His company is part of a push by the Zambian Government and agriculture sector to move to mechanisation, because right now the estimated 1.4 million small scale farmers there still farm by hand.
"We did a lot of research and talked to a lot of farmers and we found Zambia has the mix of different farmers: commercial farmers, emerging farmers, small scale farmers and linked to many countries, neighbouring eight countries," Mr Osman said.
"All of these countries can send their staff to be trained in this location ... that's why we chose it."
While AGCO sees a massive market in Africa, Mr Osman seems genuine when it comes to ensuring the food security and prosperity of nations like Zambia.
"We need more land in order to grow more crops and Africa has that land, but we look at the farmers in Africa and we call them very small," he said.
"But if you visit, the farmer in Africa will have plenty of land surrounding him but he's only cultivating manually what he can.
"Humanly, we can only do one hectare by hand and that's why it's classified as small, but we believe that there's plenty of land in Africa and Africa will feed the world."
Friendship, peace — and poverty
It is an ambitious plan for this friendly, peaceful, yet poverty-stricken nation. The passion is there, but there is a long way to go to make Zambia the food bowl of Africa and Africa the food bowl of the world.
Ranked among the poorest nations, the dream is also about lifting Zambians out of poverty.
It is estimated 7 out of 10 people there live on less than two dollars a day and will do and sell whatever they can to make ends meet.
At the Tuesday markets in Lusaka, about 350 local farmers from across Zambia gather to sell their wares, everything from eggplants to watermelon, spices and nuts.
Customers come to find good quality fruit and vegetables at a good price.
For some farmers, it is the only money they will make all week.
Donald Kalonde is one of them. He, like many subsistence farmers, grows his own maize, the Zambian staple, along with other produce, and sells it to support his wife, seven children and widowed mother.
He counts on investment as the key to his future growth.
"If I find someone to invest money and I've got small company like timber production, so I want someone to invest money so that we can do something altogether," Mr Kalonde said.
Sixty per cent of Zambia's population is under 35, after being devastated by the HIV-AIDS epidemic. Life expectancy across the nation is 50, at best.
The next generation is primed to become the agri-preneurs of the future.
Youth and women the hope of Zambia's agricultural future
Farmers clubs are being reintroduced to schools and there is a government push to encourage young people to form farm cooperatives to help them secure finance and, in turn, become mechanised.
But securing Zambia's agricultural future is also about changing the ways of the past.
That means giving women a greater role on the farm, from sowing seeds to managing the books.
Jane Phiri is 26 years old. She has traded her career as a security guard to become a farmer, and she has high expectations.
"I want to be in agriculture because I've seen in other areas, in other countries, I think agriculture is the best thing for me," she said.
"You might have a small piece of land but when you cultivate it, at least you are getting something.
"We are aware that if we empower the women then we know that culture will turn around."
Ndambo Ndambo, Zambian National Farmers Union executive director
"Things need to change, especially when it comes to driving the tractors in the field, to harvest the maize with the combine, to do the spraying with the sprayer.
"It has to be all the women all the way. Over the next five years or 10 years from now at least three quarters should be ladies.
"In 10 years from now I think I'll have my own farm and I'll be the manager."
She will not have to do it alone either. Support for women in the sector is already there and it is growing.
Encouraging women a priority for farmers' union
Ndambo Ndambo, executive director of the Zambian National Farmers Union, said his organisation had made it a priority.
"We have taken a very drastic step to ensure that women are brought [to] the table, that they are invited by the innovation fund, where we finance women directly to be able to run their farms and plan and also to participate in the marketing and more importantly in decision making," he said.
"We are aware that if we empower the women then we know that that culture will turn around.
"They have got the experience, they have got the skill, the agriculture sector will be different and we feel that if we also put them in leadership, they win friends and provide the right signals for policy."
There is no doubt Zambia has a long way to go to pull itself out of poverty and feed the world.
But with the right leadership from above and passion and belief from within, the dream of this nation and its future farmers like Jane Phiri are not out of reach.
URL to Article:

Source: ABC