We may all be aware that agriculture is one of the sectors in this country that provides the most employment and employment opportunities. Additionally, agriculture is one of the few sectors which is widely practiced in this country. Zambia has slightly over three million small-scale farmers as well as slightly over three hundred commercial farmers. Agriculture provides the livelihoods as well as serving as a source of food for all of us. There are many sectors that are productive and may provide opportunities in Zambia for its citizens; these are agriculture as stated earlier, tourism, mining, manufacturing, trading and energy. Nonetheless, it is only agriculture that has been providing the most benefits to the Zambian people for a very long time. However, agriculture has been on a downward trend for the last ten years and worse off in the last three years. It is an industry which is dying, and who must shoulder the blame for this scenario? YOU!
In some parts of the country, the farmers have started to plant as the rains slowly trickles down. The sad part of it is that the majority of agrodealers have not been paid for the inputs they supplied to farmers last season. The implications are that these agrodealers have technically been knocked out of business because they will not be supplied with inputs by manufacturers as they are still owing. Like we reported some three months ago, many of these agrodealers are insolvent and those that are struggling have diversified into other businesses like trading in construction materials. Ultimately, this is creating a void in the agricultural input supply value chain. The result will be reduced production because the farmers will not access affordable inputs, especially that the kwacha is ‘orphaned’. What is so disturbing is that it had taken us so much time and money to build an effective input supply system. The input supply companies had been using the community agrodealers (CAD) that are based right in the heart of the farming communities like Mwasempangwe, Kalumwange, Lambwechomba, Ipumbu, Namwala, Ipongo, Musungu, Kaloko, Mpunde and many other areas in the country. This effective way of distributing inputs made it possible for a farmer that had money to buy a small bottle of Stellar star to control weeds in the maize field right in the community where they are found. The eVoucher was the best way to make inputs available to the farmers at farmgate, and it was a better strategy to promote crop diversification. Crop input supply which is private sector led has been ‘killed’ by the government for the reason mentioned earlier. In the agribusiness value chain, we have input supply, production, extension or knowledge dissemination, markets/marketing and disposal. In this value chain, input supply and extension are no longer effective. The market is the only item working because we need to eat regardless of what happens. Due to our ineffective leadership, we are slowly killing the production because of the high cost of inputs, equipment, fuel and non-availability of energy (electricity). This has been brought about because of the non-performing economy which has led to the loss of value of our currency; the kwacha is now costing K14 to a US$1. The inputs and implements that we use in production are all imported, and the devaluating kwacha has an impact on production.
The extension service delivery is also in a quagmire; the last time I wanted some information from one of the offices at some ministry of agriculture in one of the provinces, we had to buy electricity units and paper because the ministry had no money. According to them, the last time they received funding was in March 2019. If this is how we are funding the people that are supposed to impart knowledge into farmers about production, how are the farmers going to improve productivity? I am so sure that even if we receive adequate rains this season, we will still have challenges to produce enough. We have killed the agriculture industry because of our defective leadership, hence, we are quoting persistent hunger in our country. For those that may have the opportunity to have inputs this year, please produce as much as you can because the commodity prices will still remain high next year.
The author is the Agribusiness Development Consultant; email@example.com