Global Farmers identify the top topics for Zambian agriculture

From 11 June to 18 June 2016, 20 farmers from all over the world gathered in Zambia, Africa to investigate what is needed to truly bring African agriculture to fruition. They immersed themselves in Zambia's broader cultural, societal and economical aspects as well as in the specifics of the country's agricultural sector.

A key finding: bringing change from the perspective of proven successful first world business models will not work – offering choices and involving local communities might. The sector is complex, its challenges myriad, nonetheless, Rabobank together with the Global Farmers have gained a good insight into the top topics for agriculture in Zambia.

Agricultural potential

The 20 global farmers were invited by Rabobank to join a special edition of the bank's Global Farmers Master Class concept. An African edition available only to Master Class alumni. The farmers themselves had expressed specific interest in Africa and its agricultural potential in previous editions of the Master Class. During the African edition the Global Farmers learned everything there is to know about Zambian agriculture. They met and discussed with the Zambian Ministry of Agriculture, national agricultural sector organizations, agribusiness corporates, non-profit companies and NGO's such as Musika and World Food Programme respectively. They visited smallholder and large-scale commercial farmers as well as food and agri processing and input companies and got a first-hand view on their operations, challenges and opportunities.

Full width and breadth of agriculture

The country's food and agri sector has a lot going for it: Zambia is 20 times the size of the Netherlands, almost as big as France and the UK combined, but is scarcely populated, and a staggering 45 percent of its land is arable. The next generation is abundantly represented in Zambia; about two-thirds of the population is under 24. Contrary to its neighbouring countries, water availability is not a challenge for Zambia. Its agricultural sector offers the full width and breadth of agriculture in Africa; from smallholder and emerging farmers to commercial farming, to corporate farming, to large food processing companies.

 

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Paradox

Zambia produces many of the global commodities including maize, soy, wheat, sugar and potatoes. Despite its apparent agricultural pole position, the sector doesn’t seem to be hitting off. Zambia imports some 20 percent of locally consumed foods. Although about 45 percent of the land is arable, just 15 percent of that amount is cultivated. Its urbanisation rate exceeds 40 percent - driven by a high rural poverty rate that, despite positive general economic developments, has remained virtually unchanged; quite a paradox.

Challenges

"The more we learn, the less we know," said participant Bruno Melcher from Brazil, referring to this paradox. Zambia’s single dependency on copper (accounts for some 75 percent of the country's total export) and negative exchange rate developments negatively impact the food and agri sector. More directly related to food and agri, the Global Farmers observed that access to finance is difficult as land is not considered a valid basis for funding and the majority of farmers are smallholder farmers operating only 2 to 3 hectares of land with limited farming knowledge, low productivity and high vulnerability to rainfall patterns and plant pests. Import is hindered by intricate border systems and language barriers. Inputs are available but at high costs and with a lack of skilled service providers and extension services, infrastructure is challenging and most of all there is a huge lack of primary-level educated labour and general access to knowledge.

Top topics

Based on the learnings during the week, Rabobank and the Global Farmers have gained a good insight into the top topics for African agriculture to unlock its potential. These topics include the need for practical skill-based education on farming practices, land use and aggregation (still influenced by cultural traditions), infrastructure, inputs and irrigation, and entrepreneurship and economic viability with crossover from farming by birth to farming as a profitable, cash generating business.

Shared responsibility

Berry Marttin, Rabobank Executive Board member added: "Africa and Zambia offer all the ingredients for agricultural success, but it is hard to put them together in the right way to make it work. No one can do this alone – it is a shared responsibility. Although in every successful project we see at least one true catalyst who has his full skin-in-the game; not only money but everything: his image, his ego, his passion… his life."

The African Global Farmers Master Class was an experience of a lifetime, both humbling and inspiring. Participant Bill O'Keeffe said: "This week stretched my mind. It will get back, but not like it was before."

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