Various stakeholders in Kapiri Mposhi district have rejected the relocation of a multi-million dollar sweet potato processing factory from the district to Lusaka.
This is because over 700 smallholder sweet potato farmers engaged on an out-grower arrangement to supply sweet potatoes to the factory this year stand to lose out on the ready market if the plant is relocated.
Mahur Investments, a private sector investor was empowered to set up the factory by Musika Development Initiative, a Swedish supported organisation in Zambia, at the cost of 150,000 United States dollars (USD) to provide a ready market for smallholder sweet potato farmers in the district.
Mahur Investment Managing Director, Sunil Patel said during a stakeholders meeting attended by Central Province Chiefs’ Council Chairman, Chief Chibale, government officials and some affected sweet potato farmers to discuss the investment options and a way forward of the potato processing plant, explained that the company has since resolved to relocate the factory to Lusaka due to high operational costs involved in running the factory.
Mr Patel disclosed that the company requires over 200,000 USD to operationalize the factory which has remained dormant after its installation in 2020.
“It won’t be a viable project if we open. We need the farmers to benefit and the company to benefit but this won’t be due costs, we can do it if we move it to Lusaka,” Mr Patel said.
Mr Patel however assured the local sweet potato farmers that the company will still honour the market linkage contracts of buying sweet potatoes from them to be used in the production of sweet potato chips and crisps.
But Kapiri Mposhi Town Council Chairman, Brilliant Munyeke complained that relocation of the factory to Lusaka will deprive locals of job opportunities.
Mr Munyeke wondered why the investor wanted to relocate the factory when its establishment through Musika was aimed at helping the local people and farmers in Kapiri Mposhi adding that the area needed such investment to help in reducing poverty.
“Speaking on behalf of government, I can’t allow this factory to be relocated from Kapiri because we also need investors. We don’t want to see these investors only in Lusaka. Our youth don’t have employment and where are they going to find employment if you take such a big investment to Lusaka,” Mr Munyeke wondered.
And potato farmers in the district have rejected the relocation of the factory noting that there is no guarantee the investor will maintain market linkages with them in the event the plant is moved to Lusaka.
Lazarus Chitambo, a potato farmer, also wondered where farmers, recruited by the company to produce sweet potatoes in the 2021/2022 farming season, will find a market for their sweet potatoes produced as feedstock for the factory.
” Farmers signed contracts with Mahur to grow potatoes and we went out to recruit women and youths who don’t have jobs to grow sweet potatoes but now we are worried because in the first place this factory is not operating up to now and secondly we don’t know where to take the sweet potatoes because we produced for this factory,” Mr Chitambo said.
In response , Musika Head of Corporate Affairs, Pamela Hamasaka disclosed that the company partnered with Mahur to support procurement of the potato processing equipment on a cost sharing arrangement after the company responded to a challenge fund that Musika had publicized in 2019 to support its objective on sweet potato agriculture diversification in order to help sweet potato farmers in Kapiri Mposhi with ready market for their produce.
Ms. Hamasaka further explained that under the partnership Musika also provided support to Mahur Investments to commence provision of extension services and training of smallholder farmers as well as setting up aggregation sales points for sweet potatoes in the district.
“The struggle for the smallholder farmers has been access to markets and most of the sweet potatoes have been going to waste and when Mahur Investments responded to a challenge fund that Musika had publicized in 2019 they came up with this project and we were happy to support it as Musika because it was answering to the objectives of agriculture diversification,” Ms Hamasaka said.
“What it is that every investment that we put in when we have partnered with these private sector entities is that they should be able to demonstrate that the projects will benefit especially the smallholder farmers because at the end of the day we want to lift these farmers out of poverty through improved market for their produce and agronomic information so that they can be able to meet the supply capacity,” Ms Hamasaka said.
The arguments for relocation to Lusaka are not clear, and Musika’s role remains in the dark
It’s just an issue of lack of effective community leadership. The 700 small farmers can form a co-operative and explore ways of buying a similar machine from China. Who is the area MP?
Skewed development believing that everything has to be centered around Lusaka! Who would blame government if it decided to intervene? PPP cant work when the private sector’s concern is maximization of profits at the expense of rural infrastructure and human development! Government thinks people and investor thinks profits!
There we go again… Lusaka bamba zonke…and over populate Lusaka. Scatter industry across the country for proper population and wealth distribution.
Wealth and population go together and therefore must be evenly distributed across the country so that Lusaka is not overcrowded.
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