It’s not easy being green

I can’t believe I’ve become this cynical so soon. My first impressions of Lusaka had me convinced that agriculture would be this country’s future. The land was so green, the soil so fertile! Well, I hate to burst my own utopian bubble, but after speaking to some people in the industry, I’m realising just how difficult conditions are.

Sure, Zambia is green. It’s fertile. it has incredible potential. But consider this: Much of the green land all around is bushland. To turn it into farmland would cost ten thousand dollars a hectare. That’s just to get things up and running – to organise the electricity and irrigate the land. That’s before all the other overhead costs.

Then there’s the financing. Banks in Zambia only lend in US dollars. The farms will be generating their revenue in the local Kwacha currency, which has been depreciating. And with such strict lending conditions these days, many aspiring farmers would not even get past the first hurdle – credit. So there’s a good reason why Zambia has been slow to diversify it’s economy away from cooper. Investing in agriculture is a risky business.

That’s not to say it’s impossible. Zambia’s farming exports have increased from around 5 percent in the 1980s to around 20 percent, and the country is becoming more self sufficient in staples like wheat and maize. But is agriculture the answer to all of Zambia’s economic problems? Don’t bet the farm on it just yet.

Comments

One Response to “It’s not easy being green”
  1. Patrick E Banda says:

    Since the early seventies, it has been recognised that Zambia needs to diversify its economy from being copper depended to agriculture. The problem is politicians. None of the presidents has had the political will to put the right policies in place to encourage small scale farming. Year in year out, inputs are never available on time, the price of all imputs is liberlised but the price of the produce is strictly controlled. This is bad economics. For example, the price at which the Food Reserve Agency, a government agency, buys the products is fixed by the government. A small scale farm cannot sell the product at the price considered profitable. Never can he be allowed to sell to an export market. However, the FRA, which buys from the peasant farmers is able to export the same products to DRC and make huge profits. The profits which would rightly accrue to the small scale farmers if the right policies were put in place.

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