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Real job creation in agriculture

Last week I bumped into an article attributed to the president of Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU). In that particular article, Mr Zimba was mentioning how he has been getting cooking oil from the cottage industries in Eastern Province. I was so elated because I happen to be one of those that has been buying my yearly requirements for cooking oil from Katete and Chipata. These two towns have the strongest women development associations (DWDA) in the country. They buy sunflower and groundnuts from the farmers around their communities and process it into cooking oil which is sold within and in Lusaka. I have always been buying cooking oil from them since 2012. Its only last year that I could not buy it because of the changed ways of working due to Covid.

I have always liked their model because the processing activities are done within the farming communities. They are not only creating the market for the local people but they are also creating job opportunities as well as improving the nutritional levels of farmers around the cottage industries. These cottage industries were supported by different development organisations, such as USAID, to get established. When I read the article it reminded me of one enterprise in Kabwe called Chankwakwa which is adding value to different agricultural produce including fruits like mangoes. That enterprise has the potential to develop and become a full-fledged processing industry which can employ so many people in the country as well as bring the so much needed forex in the country. What we need to realise is that regardless of how much the prices of metals appreciates, we will not fully benefit from it as a country because mines are in the hands of the foreigners. As a country, we will benefit more if we dare to develop the agriculture sector by integrating value addition and manufacturing activities. The country is struggling to create job opportunities because of the lopsided policies that we have adopted. For instance, early in the morning of Sunday, I was listening to a programme on radio that featured the deputy speaker of parliament (he is a regular feature of the programme). He was talking of the job opportunities that have been created through creation of new districts. He indicated that so many people have been employed as council workers, district commissioners and many such government related roles. I felt so bad and embarrassed that we have policymakers that think government is the ultimate employer. Governments world over do not make money but they just collect taxes. As much as they create jobs through service provisions, those jobs will not be sustained if there is a weak private sector. It is the reason we have seen some council workers and other public officers going for years without accessing their salaries. We have neglected the SMEs who are supposed to be the anchor for the economy.

The government is supposed to create an enabling environment for the public sector to thrive. If we harnessed the agricultural sector by promoting value addition and manufacturing, we can create so many jobs that we could easily start importing labour like we used to in the 70s. Think with me what can happen if we genuinely invested in the revamping of the cotton sector. Just by opening the Mulungushi Textiles with backward integration to producers as well as forward integration to the factories making clothes, we could create as many as 500,000 jobs. Sometime back, we used to cultivate as much as 300,000 hectares under cotton. This has reduced to a mere 100,000 hectares because we are only producing cotton to sell as lint. The prices always fluctuate but this would be different if we encouraged our own factories to be making clothes and supply the local market as well as export to the region. Not very long ago we had industries such as Serios which was making first class suits that we used to export. Countries like Turkey in Europe are well known for the apparel industry. As a matter of fact, I am wearing a shirt I bought in BBC that was imported from Turkey. There are so many real jobs that can be created from the agriculture sector but this will only be done if we have the right policies and will to implement them. It is insulting for us to be buying second hand clothes in a country that has so many hectares of land which are not cultivated and yet we have the favourable climate that supports the cultivation of cotton.

There is need to revisit these policies to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of the cotton subsector. You can find more of this in the book. Agribusiness in Zambia: Untapped Opportunities. You can get it on many of the online bookstores. However, you also get an eBook by emailing me and it is going at K100 only. Let’s create real jobs and not the child’s play we are doing. Magufuli did it, Kagame and Botswana are doing it, what is wrong with us?

This author is an Agribusiness Development Consultant. ftembo2001@gmail.com

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