“INSANITY is doing the same thing but expecting different results”. This saying is very common. Zambia’s agriculture is characterised by low productivity, and since time immemorial, we have been trying to change this scenario but with minimal results, if any. All value chains that are produced in the sector with an exception of vegetables such as onions and tomatoes are produced at less than 30 per cent efficiency. The yield potential of seed varieties for certain crops such as tomato are as high as 30 to 40 metric tonnes. Some smallholder farmers get as high as 20 to 30 tonnes of tomato per hectare. One wonders why this is different for other value chains like maize, sunflower, groundnuts, soybean and many other field crops. One of the main differences in the way the two different value chains are grown is that vegetables are irrigated while the field crops are grown without irrigation (dry lands – depend on rains). Additionally, tomatoes and other vegetables have well established and developed market systems as opposed to the other crops. We seem to have the answers within ourselves but one wonders why we have not implemented them to develop this very important sector. One might argue that irrigation and market systems are not the only two factors that make the horticulture value chains efficient, but also the adoption of the right technologies such as timely application of pesticides to produce quality crops. They do this because they know that regardless of how expensive the solutions are, they will be able to recover their money and make profits because of the almost perfect market systems in place.
Therefore, if irrigation is introduced in production of the field crops, the efficiency will be enhanced. On the other hand, one will argue as to why the commercial farmers that have irrigation infrastructure are not interested in growing maize and of late soybeans which are major commodities in this regions. The answer lies with their low returns; no predictable good markets for the commodities. It is not that there is no market for maize and soybean in the region, but their returns are not attractive. Many farmers are actually contemplating return to Zimbabwe once that country sorts out the monetary policy. It will be very unfortunate if we lose the commercial famers because we will start importing wheat again; wheat is hundred per cent grown by the commercial farmers. Regarding improving the efficiency in the smallholder sector, what should the stakeholders do? By stakeholders, I mean all people involved such as government, financial institutions, farmers, traders, processors, traditional leaders and many others. We have tried to implement FISP since 2002 with the view to improving farmer productivity but no significant results have been achieved at all. The programme has been used for political expediency in most cases and lately as a vehicle to enrich a few individuals with impunity. Because of the lopsided implementation of the program, we are at the verge of killing the agrodealer network that we developed for a long time; this is because the government is owing the agrodealers, it is not paying them for the services and products they rendered on their behalf. Many of them are closing shop or venturing into different businesses, including ‘politics’. From 2002 to date, productivity of various value chains has marginally improved; 1.3mt to 2.0mt for maize; 0.4mt to 0.5mt for groundnuts; 0.9mt to 1.5mt for soybeans, and so on. The government has pumped in billions of kwacha in the programme with no results at all. We seem not to have trailed and measured the impact of the support rendered, yet we keep on investing. What should we do then to improve this programme?
We all know that even in developed countries, there are subsidies that are provided to various industries by their respective government to make them competitive. For instance, in India, Tata company is given a preferential lower tax bracket by the government so that it can be competitive against other established foreign brands. This is also true in Nigeria where companies like Dangote are given special lower tax incentives as compared to other foreign companies in the same sector. This is one reason they have managed to grow and establish foreign operations in other countries like Zambia. It is very different in this country; when they see a local company getting established, they let ZRA pounce and in no time, that company will be no more, especially if it is not paying ‘homages’ to the elite in government. My suggestion is that the government scraps off FISP and channels the money meant for this programme in improving the marketing systems such as encouraging value addition and opening up the borders for export for all the commodities produced in the country.
For social safety nets for those less privileged like the elderly, the government can continue giving free inputs to such through the Ministry of Community Development like it has been the case. If the government can improve the market systems for various commodities and compel the financial institutions to develop products that are user friendly, such as long-term financing at lower interest rates, we will see a lot of farmers investing in lucrative value chains such as macadamia, citrus, cashew nuts, like is the case in other countries. This FISP programme is not adding value, especially now that corruption is practiced openly and those that are involved in the act are hero-worshipped; it will not take off. In the book, ‘A Guide to Agribusiness in Zambia: Untapped Opportunities’, we have highlighted in detail some of the reasons FISP has failed to tick.
You can get either a hardcopy or softcopy on this link (https://www.amazon.com/Guide-Agribusiness-Zambia-Untapped-Opportunities/dp/1796019127).
FISP is a total failure and a scheme, which is being used to enrich a few at the expense of the people. There are no success stories in FISP; nothing to show about it.
The author is the Agribusiness Development consultant; firstname.lastname@example.org/SM