THE debate on the impending sale of Mopani Copper Mines (MCM) by Glencoe yet again brings to the fore the need for heavy investment in the mining sector.
Zambia, having been dependent on mining over the years, needs more investment to ensure growth, although the reserves are dwindling.
But even as stakeholders debate the capability by ZCCM-IH to take over MCM, they should exercise caution not to take away the attention from agriculture, which is another important sector in the country’s economy.
There is no doubt that the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) role is crucial to the future of the mine.
But even as another foreign investor may want to invest in the mine, the financial challenges in the mines should provide an impetus to invest in agriculture.
Nevertheless, agriculture is a sector which does not need foreign investors given the country’s conducive climate, soil and the abundant water – rain, surface and underground.
Currently, food security and high cost of foodstuffs worldwide is a source of worry, especially following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease.
Fortunately for Zambia, our worry is not the lack of availability but rather the cost of it.
Given the abundance of land, agriculture in Zambia is a sector requiring low investment, which is why attention should be paid to this sector even as the country still grapples with the issue of mines.
Any person regardless of status can participate in agriculture because it does not require foreign direct investment and requires a short period for a turnaround.
Therefore, as the Ministry of Mines, ZCCM-IH and IDC consider the way forward for MCM, stakeholders in the agriculture sector should continue to refocus on how best to sustain bumper harvests and keep farmers in business throughout the year.
Farmers should not lose focus regarding looking at heavy investments which are akin to mines such as MCM.
The farming community should target that which is easy and well placed. It should also be borne in mind that the agriculture sector takes care of everything.
Fortunately for Zambia, the market for agricultural produce is readily available internally and across the borders.
“The first market is ourselves because we all need food, unlike copper which is beyond our need because the price is determined by other people,” Aaron Chungu, a farmer in Chongwe’s Njolwe area, says.
Across the borders, there is a ready market in Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Namibia.
Whatever we aspire to cherish as a nation can be realised from the agriculture sector like Israel, a predominantly desert country which has continued to thrive on agriculture.
What Zambia needs is continue hyping the agriculture sector and continue re-focusing our attention on it. It can give us more benefits from what we are looking for in other sectors.
While copper has been the mainstay of our economy for decades, it has also proved to be a wasting asset, just like gold and other precious minerals we have.
Mr Chungu feels that had Zambia given the agriculture sector the attention it has given to the mines, this country would have been reaping in leaps and bounds.
“This is a critical moment were getting investors is difficult. Economies are closing down due to COVID-19. We don’t have money to harness copper. We have to look for an investor who dictates terms whereas, in the agriculture sector, benefits are huge,” Mr Chungu says.
COVID-19 has taught us lessons to take forward.
When South Africa shut its borders, the airspace closed, shelves in our supermarkets were empty because the imported stuff was no longer there just at the onset of COVID-19.
Some processed products such as mango from Egypt disappeared from the shelves all because we have neglected value addition. We have plenty of it in Western Province and other parts of the country.
However, it is encouraging to note that Trade Kings and other companies are taking the lead in the production of fruit juices in the country. Zambia can no longer depend on other countries for fruit juices.
Neighbouring countries’ supermarkets can now be filled with Zambian products.
As the government works round the clock to stimulate the economy, the agriculture sector should not be ignored.
Now is the time to flood farms and gardens with high-value crops such as citrus fruits and avocado and reduce dependence on maize.
Let us also grow more vegetables and target the export market.
We have underrated the agriculture sector for a long time now.
I am glad the Ministry of Education has taken a proactive approach by elevating STEM with production units being at the core of the re-orientation.
This, however, should be backed by the allocation of more resources to STEM.
This is because even when we run out of copper reserves, agriculture will remain our mainstay and people will continue eating.
Time is now to begin re-thinking about the whole model of our development. It is about feeding ourselves.
Zambia should re-engineer the economic agenda by placing agriculture as the basis for the future.
The government should prioritise agro-processing and deploy the current outbreak of empowerment opportunities in cottage industries in rural areas where there is so much agro produce.
Investing and prioritising agriculture will meet the same expectations we want from copper and gold.