The mindset surrounding Zambian agriculture has radically shifted. Once viewed as a sector secondary to mining and the domain of humble subsistence farmers, it is now understood as an activity with the potential to lift millions out of poverty, add billions to the economy and feed the world’s growing population
By European standards, Zambia is massive. Of its total area of more than 750,000 square kilometres, approximately one-third of it is suitable for farming, according to UNESCO. That means Zambia’s arable land mass is bigger than all of the United Kingdom combined. At the moment, only one-sixth of it is under cultivation and only five per cent of that is irrigated. But with the government’s ambitious plans for the sector, that is all about to change.
Zambia’s green revolution aims to seize on the country’s massive untapped potential. Although nearly 70 per cent of the labour force is already employed in the sector, through modernisation, expansion and value-chain addition, the government hopes agriculture will become an attractive career that has the potential to bring strong financial returns to workers and investors.
“Unless we change the majority of our farmers from using the rudimentary hoe and bending their backs for a lifetime, especially women farmers, we are not going to achieve the green revolution,” says Dora Siliya, Zambia’s former minister of agriculture who has recently taken up the portfolio of information and broadcasting.
Mechanisation is one key element, and besides public support, Zambia is offering significant incentives to foreign partners who can provide productivity-boosting machinery. Likewise, major investments are planned and sought after to boost irrigation, improve the sector’s resilience to climate change, increase storage and enhance seed production. The government has also set aside one million hectares of farmland for investment, open to both Zambian and foreign investors.
“The African Development Bank says agribusiness in Africa will be worth $1 trillion in the next 30 years. What we are selling in Zambia is the opportunity to be a part of that $1 trillion,” adds Ms Siliya.
Diversification is another pillar of the revolution. Zambia is already one of the world’s leading producers of non-GMO maize, but it is also encouraging farmers to boost the production of cotton, livestock, tobacco, wheat, sugar, coffee, cassava, sorghum, stevia, millet and many more new crops.
“We have the water, a good climate and huge pieces of fertile land that have not been developed and in many cases do not even require fertilizer. We are as good as not even having started yet,” says Chola Kamfwabulula, executive director of Zambia’s’ Food Reserve Agency.
Although Zambia is stepping up efforts to secure new sources of energy, it remains an energy-importing nation. In 2015 and 2016, the country’s main energy company reported spending in excess of $250 million on emergency power imports. At the same time, much of Zambia’s rural population does not have access to electricity, which is imperative for the country to modernise its agricultural sector. To help solve those problems, the Zambian government has revised its National Energy Policy to include biofuels.
Biofuels can be made from agricultural leftovers or crops like soya beans, maize, jatropha and cassava, all of which are grown in Zambia. “Biofuels could ensure security of supply of fuel and contribute towards poverty alleviation,” states a UN report by agro-scientist Bernadette Lubozhya.
Investment opportunities are now being promoted abroad as a win-win solution for Zambian agriculture, and local entrepreneurs are already hard at work. One example is Mutoba Ngoma, who started a successful business by collecting leftover vegetable oils from local households and restaurants, turning it into thousands of litres of biodiesel, and then using the by-products to make organic glycerine soaps.