|The Courier N° 121 March-april 1990- Dossier Refugees - Country Reports: Botswana - Zambia (EC Courier, 1990, 104 p.)|
|Zambia: Copper, a fickle friend|
Zambias economic problems have long been focused on copper, probably because it has shaped the countrys history. Yet Zambia is more than just a mineral, however important that mineral may be in the lives of the people. It is a large country with a small population and its natural conditions are particularly good when it comes to switching from the production of a single mineral to a diversified industrial economy with farming as the driving force.
Agricultural development is the most promising way of righting the national economy. In 1984 and 1985 it was the only sector with positive growth (up to 9 % even, in 1985), doing far better than all the others. The land is fertile, there is adequate and reliable rainfall, there is a varied tropical climate and the countrys agricultural potential is as good or better than that of neighbours such as Zimbabwe, Za and, to some extent, South Africa. And the moderate average temperature means that most tropical and some temperate products can be grown here.
However, this potential has been ignored or under-exploited since independence, partly because of the predominance of copper (90 % of exports) and partly because of an inefficient and discouraging agricultural organisation and marketing system. Exchange rates kept artificially high have encouraged the consumption of cheap imports, while local products at consumers level have been heavily subsidised by the Government, which fixed low prices for the producers to ensure an inexpensive source of staple agricultural products. So following the first changes to the agricultural policy in the late 70s (to cater for the oil crisis and the decline in copper prices), agriculture accounted for an average of 17 % p.a. (about 2 % of export revenue) in 1984-88, although it employed 50% of the population, the other 50 % being in the towns. It is thought that urban drift could reach dramatic proportions if rapid steps are not taken to improve rural living conditions and make farming attractive to people from the towns. Agricultural prices, transport and an unsecured land tenure system are just some of the major constraints on the development of Zambian farming. And although the National Agricultural Marketing Board (Namboard) and the Provincial Cooperative Unions distribute most of the inputs (fertilizer, seed, etc) and provide most of the marketing services, there are still major financial and logistical difficulties to cope with.
The Kabwe peasants
We visited the small peasant producers of Kabwe, in the Central Province, in order to get a better grasp of the difficulties facing Zambian agriculture, and discussed the life of a smallholder with a family from Lifwambula.
They talked about agricultural prices. We dont understand any of the price fixing machinery, the head of the family said. A bag of fertiliser cost K85 in 1988, but it went up to K385 (a 353% rise) in one go in 1989. A bag of maize (90 kg) went up to K 125 from K 108 (16%) over the same period. How can the producer pay for all the inputs he needs per unit with K 125? they wondered. There is LIMA bank, the farmers bank, of course, and this typical peasant family applied to it for a loan, but they told us the bank had run out of money, the man said, resignedly. Yet the headlines in that weeks papers were all about the Governments release of K1 billion to help the peasants through their bank. Maybe. But, as a technician who has been working in the region for 15 years asked, when will they get their loans, if they are ever granted?
One of the first results of all this is that the peasants tend to reduce their acreage. The farmer in Lifwambula was planning to go down from 30 acres (about 15 ha) to 20 acres (10 ha), particularly since it was already time to sow and the 1988-89 harvests delivered to the cooperatives between May and September had still not been paid for. The State, through the cooperatives, owed this small Kabwe village peasant K 75 000 for the 600 bags of maize he had delivered at K125 per bag. The farmers need the money to buy the inputs which, to cap it all, the State wont let the cooperatives supply for anything but cash, he said.
And not only is there a financial problem. Transport, too, is a serious handicap to economic and social life throughout the country and a genuine cause of discouragement and maybe bankruptcy for the small peasant. At the end of 1989, there were still 50 000 bags (4 500 toones) of maize from the 1988-89 harvest in Lifwambula and 49 000 (4 410 tonnes) in Chowa, stored in sheds built by the European Community, or piled up on wooden supports, prey to insects and the elements.
The situation is much the same in the livestock sector, too, although the rearers could well think they are better off than the rest of the farmers. Cattle prices tend to revolve round the beef prices, a Batoka farmer explained, and since with 2 kg of feed you can put up 7 kg of beef, at K 30 per kg,- the daily wage of a manual worker herding is doing better than the rest of Zambias agriculture. And it is in livestock that the big farmers are investing the most and having the greatest success with their move to change Government policy through the action of their organisation, the Commercial Farmers Bureau (see interview with Director John Hudson).
How do people manage with wages ever more inversely proportional to the cost of living? People dont shop according to their budget because of inflation, which is approaching the Latin American rate, one expatriate employer said. And there will be no solution, they say in Lusaka, until the economy provides its own answer through the machinery of supply and demand and a proper financial and monetary environment.
The sleeping giant of African agriculture
This is the title of a brochure from the Commercial Farmers Bureau and it is by no means just a partisan opinion by people wanting to be judges in their own case. All the analyses by international organisations agree that Zambias agricultural potential is one of the best in Africa and that it is this sector as a whole that will make it possible to right the economy.
But this means removing a number of constraints to do with financing, marketing and the system of land ownership- - which is as uncertain as the system of price fixing. Investors need to feel some confidence in State policy and the laws governing land usage, John Hudson said, but this is not yet completely the case, particularly when it comes to land ownership. Other important measures should be taken, too, particularly to do with small producers, agricultural credit facilities and the development of the extension services.
John Hudson said that the Government had begun to move in the right direction. Zambia is one of the last farming frontiers in the world. It has enormous potential. It could become the breadbasket of South-central Africa he maintained.
It is up to the Government now to create the conditions for the success of the sector which is the key to Zambias economic recovery.