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.
First, why is Zambia clinging to the sector that others are ceding for manufacturing?
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.
Table 1: Share of Zambia’s agriculture in Total Labour Force in percentages
The trade figures do not support the agriculture argument
The English dictionary explains the word subsistence as, ‘denoting or relating to production at a level sufficient only for one’s own use or consumption, without any surplus for trade.’ The definition is backed by statistics that show that Zambia’s participation in international trade in agriculture is stunted and almost not there. In the context of international and even regional trade, Zambia is very far from integration in this sector and is simply not competitive. Despite the good news that the country’s trade balance in agriculture with the world is positive and growing (Figure 1), exports and imports of agriculture are not only too low but are hardly growing significantly. Exports and imports totalled only $ 761 and $ 480 million respectively in 2016, a drop from $ 1.5 billion for exports in 2013. So, exports in blue line in absolute terms are declining as the trend in the graph shows.
The good news is that unlike most African countries, Zambia seems to have a strong resolve not to be a perpetual net-food importer. As can be seen from Figure 2, the country is exporting more food than it is importing. But, again, the figures in absolute terms of only exports of $600 million and imports of $400million giving a trade surplus of $200million is simply too low to propel any development.
Agriculture export products are inferior and too low in value
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?
Table 2: Zambia’s exported agriculture products to world in $ Millions
|[TOTAL] Total all products||5,801|
| Tobacco, unmanufactured; tobacco refuse||160|
| Maize (not including sweet corn), unmilled||117|
| Sugar, molasses and honey||112|
| Feeding stuff for animals (no unmilled cereals)||48|
| Oil seeds & oleaginous fruits (incl. flour, n.e.s.)||22|
| Tobacco, manufactured||20|
| Meal and flour of wheat and flour of meslin||13|
| Animal or veg. oils & fats, processed, n.e.s.; mixt.||13|
Why are we not importing more Agricultural Raw Materials as inputs for expansion of productivity?
I m not expert in agriculture but, I thought imports of agricultural raw materials signals an insatiable appetite for expansion of production in agriculture since it must be seen as an input. As I understand, there are three main groupings, first, “basic natural resources that are input into the agricultural process to produce various types of food, and finally, fertilizers, pesticides, or other organic means of controlling damaging insect populations, as well as mechanized equipment and reliable sources of energy to run modern farming operations.” Yet, as Figure 3 shows, the share of imports of these items account for very little in total imports of $7 billion and this is even eroding. To put this in practical terms, imports amounted to only $ 46 million in 2016. What can this amount do to expand productivity? Or how much is being imported as capital and inputs in the expansion of production in agriculture?
Third, Is Zambia competitive in Africa’s Agriculture value added in the Economy?
Despite the many political statements made publicly that Zambia will be the hub of agriculture in the region, the country is not competitive regionally. In 1970, Zambia ranked number 29 among African countries in agriculture value added in the economy, meaning, countries even with smaller GDP like Malawi and Niger have more agriculture in their economies than Zambia as Table 3 (a) below shows. In 2016, the country ranked number 27, not far from the ranking of about five decades. Today, Zambia’s agriculture value added in the economy is only $ 1.6billion compared to $2.6 billion for Niger or $6.7 billion for Cote D’Ivoire. It means, the country has not been making progress in regional competitive terms. In terms of share in the GDP, agriculture value added declined from a once-upon a time high mark of 33% in 1993 to now 8%. It also means that achieving the objectives set in agriculture of reducing poverty, creating jobs and structural transformation will remain more in public statements than in action.
Table 3: Zambia’s Agriculture value added in Economy in $ Millions compared with African countries
|Table (a) 1970||Table (b) 2015|
|In $Millions||In $Millions|
|13||Sudan (…2011)||479||South Africa||6,667|
|24||Burkina Faso||182||Sierra Leone||2,247|
And forth, what next?
What next is a unique question because even I have no special answers. No one has, otherwise we would be better today. But in trying to search for answers, there are some obviously little things that need addressing. We have Israel as Zambia’s development partner. Yes, our Head of State was there not long ago. One of that country’s strengths lies in the specialization in irrigation which is essential for agriculture. Expanding irrigation infrastructure and coverage and investing more money from cash obtained from copper sales, in agriculture is key. Productivity, seen in the growth in agriculture value added is one thing, but this is too low.
The budget for agriculture development needs to be expanded but with the strict objective of manufactured products. No more should we talk about agriculture but manufactured goods of an agriculture nature. History shows that budget for agriculture has been minimal. Table 4 shows the shares of agriculture from 2009-2014 in total national budget as announced by the Minister of Finance for 2008-2013 address. Clearly, the shares have been eroding instead of increasing and perhaps this trend continues today. There is need for stronger infrastructure and manufacturing value added in the economy. Growth does not come with little thinking. It comes with big thinking. Stop making big statements on little steps of achievement.
Table 4: Budget for agriculture as a share of total budget in percentages
Source: Minister of Finance budget address 2013