Zambia’s agriculture has a special place in the country’s political and economic agenda. Since independence, everyone has been saying it is important but they don’t show figures to back their statements. But, as we celebrate our independence, let us look at only a few of the issues to see whether, in fact we are independent in this sector. First, the argument for agriculture; second, international trade in agriculture; third, Is Zambia competitive in Africa’s Agriculture value added in the Economy? And forth, way forward.
Exports of tobacco, maize, cotton and others listed in Table 2 are not dynamic products. Even if they were useful, their absolute values are simply too low. Honorable Minister, look at Table 2 below and tell the Zambians, how can we be exporting $ tobacco worth less than $200 million to the world? In June this year, the Minister of Agriculture boasted, “We are the biggest producer of non genetic maize in the region. Our total consumption of maize as a country is 1.8million metric tonnes. Last year we produced 2.8million metric tonnes. This year we have unprecedented production of 3.8 million”, Said Hon Siliya. Yet exports to the world are less than $200 million. These are not competitive trade figures. We cannot even grow enough vegetables to export, at least to African countries, instead we export less than $20million. The Zambian Ambassador in South Africa was pictured with South African farmers. How much investment have they made in the country to support trade in agriculture?
Why is Zambia clinging to the sector that others are ceding for manufacturing where the value for money and job creation is? For over five decades, we have argued that agriculture is an important sector, stating that its contribution to total labour force in share terms is about 70-80%. Even when that share declined to 60 per cent and has remained flat for over three decades, we continue to use the 70 per cent argument. Table 1 below shows that though slowly, the share has been eroding and may plummet further in the next ten years. More importantly, we also know that a large chunk of that share is not something that we should really be boasting about because it is subsistence or rudimentary. Further, the so-called importance of the sector is largely perceived in local context. As Table shows, some countries including African ones are moving away from agriculture as a main source of employment. These are the countries such as Mauritius and Tunisia in Africa that are experiencing growth in manufacturing as a major source of job creation and poverty reduction. In Asia, it is manufacturing, hardly agriculture that powered countries to achieve millennium development goals while Africa was slumbering and, history may repeat itself in the same way for Agenda 2030. Even if agriculture employs more people than any other sector, the point is that most of these employees are engaged in subsistence activities.