Mechanised farming and cultivating young is way to go, says Stanbic Bank

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By Leon Kotze

Zambia’s immense potential in agriculture has always been clear. The country boasts an area of 752,000 square kilometres, 80 percent of which is arable land, a favourable climate, an abundance of natural water resources and political stability. Yet our country remains heavily dependent on mining.

The precariousness of this reliance became all too apparent when global commodity prices fell two years ago, thereby exposing Zambia to considerable economic shocks which, among other things, led to thousands of workers being laid off while the Kwacha shed nearly half its value in a matter of weeks.

The government has for a long time been driving toward economic diversification to ease the burden of the country’s economy away from the mining industry with agricultural placed as one of the key growth sectors in the 7th National Development Plan.

Although steady progress has been made toward increasing agriculture’s contribution to national GDP which currently averages six percent, about half that of mining, the economic downturn of 2015/16 illustrates just how far we still must go to achieve diversity.

A Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) report points to the lack of mechanisation as one of the major factors that hinder the growth of agriculture, not only in Zambia but in Africa as a whole, citing research data which shows mechanisation can increase productivity by at least 50 percent.

YOUTH AND TECHNOLOGY

In 2016, the World Bank estimated that there were about 1,600 tractors for every 1,000 farmers in the USA. By contrast, there were only five tractors for every 1,000 farmers in Africa while the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says that despite 60 percent of the population being below the age of 25, the average age of farmers on the continent is 60-years-old.

Agriculture is seen as undesirable industry by young people partly because of the old technology and farming techniques prevalent in Zambia today which are tedious and highly inefficient compared to modern methods.

These are the challenges we need to overcome if we are to get our youth, who make up over half of the country’s population, more involved in agriculture as a business.

In 2013, the Government, through the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU), launched the Agritech expo. This is a business-to-business trading platform created to stimulate trade between farmers and professionals in the value chain from within and outside the country.

This year’s event was held under the theme ‘Resilience part of Zambian nature: Applauding every step forward towards the modernisation of Zambian agriculture’

In the last few years, the award-winning event has grown into a useful platform for sector participants, especially young entrepreneurs, to familiarise themselves with the latest farming practices and modern technology to improve production.

Such forums go a long way in helping to eliminate the negative perception that people have toward farming hence encouraging increased participation.

GROWING SUPPORT

The Government’s push for a modernised agricultural sector has been boosted by bilateral and private sector investment helping to accelerate growth.

China, for instance, through its embassy in Zambia, recently set up Africa’s first Chinese run Agriculture Technical Centre in Lusaka which has so far trained over 1,000 technicians in various aspects of agriculture including technology.

The centre is the first of several projects China seeks to launch soon. They include establishment of a research institute in Northern Province and an agricultural industrial park in Chipata. The plans were unveiled last year during the first ever China-Africa agricultural cooperation and development seminar held alongside the 91st Zambia Agricultural and Commercial Show.

Meanwhile, local institutions like banks have also jumped on the agribusiness development train. Stanbic Bank, whose parent company the Standard bank group is 20 percent owned by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, has created sector specific products to allow farmers to grow their business with easier access to finance.

“One of the bank’s focus areas is improving the agri-value chain by promoting market development, value addition, improving storage capacity and processing, by providing flexible financial solutions, through leasing solutions, working capital support, as well as trade and inventory finance solutions among others to eligible players.”

Stanbic Bank has so far invested over US$200 million in the agricultural sector earning it the award for ‘Best Agribusiness Bank in Zambia 2016’ from the Global Banking and Finance Review.

For decades, the world has fought to feed Africa as it grappled with unstable food security in some of its regions. However, with the current revolution being experienced in the continent’s agriculture sector driven by the huge potential and new investments, it’s only a matter of time before it is Africa’s turn to feed the world.

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