Zambia’s farmers have the capacity to become leading players in the regional marketplace and the agriculture sector is the envy of many countries in Africa, according to Zambeef Products joint-CEO Carl Irwin.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) regions represent vast opportunities for the agriculture industry, he told delegates during a panel discussion at the Euromoney Zambia Finance and Investment Conference in Lusaka this week.
“There are 460 million people in SADC and COMESA and we need to ensure our industry is competitive in this market. Zambia is the envy of many countries in Africa and around the world in that we are self-sufficient in many agricultural products, including beef, milk, chickens, eggs and soybean. That’s a huge credit to Zambia and the agricultural sector,” said Irwin.
With more than 700,000 paid-up members of the Zambia National Farmers’ Union (ZNFU), small-scale farmers form the backbone of the sector and have an important role to play. And with half the population of Zambia relying on agriculture, the sector is the largest employer of people and vital to the economy, he added.
Zambia’s abundant water, fertile soil and conducive climate have the country’s farmers a competitive advantage, and Zambeef’s extensive retailing and distribution network links them to markets and gives them the potential to supply the region.
Improvements in infrastructure – particularly roads and telecommunications – in the last 20 years have also contributed to strengthening the sector and helped Zambeef make the national supply chain more efficient.
“For me the most important thing is creating the market, and if you do that you will see the supply follow. The agriculture sector reacts quickly when the market is created; the critical thing is creating this market,” said Irwin.