By Himweela Mooya –
LUAPULA’S economic future was bleak after the closure of Mansa Batteries in 1994 and the privatization of Kawambwa Tea Company, which were the two major vibrant economic ventures in the region.
The closure of the two companies was compounded by the declining fish stock in the water bodies which is the major source of livelihood for the majority of the people. This resulted in the province being ranked as the least developed with the highest poverty levels.
For many years, the province has lived with this tag despite having abundant natural resources in form of water bodies, good arable land and rainfall pattern as well as minerals.
To borrow from the biblical quote, one could be tempted to ask, can anything good really come out of Luapula?
Luapula is now positioning itself to become an economic hub.
The recent developments in the province are bound to change not only most people’s perspective about the province but also its economic outlook.
Credit should go to the provincial leadership that has grabbed the opportunity to improve the economic prospects of the province.
The provincial leadership is resolute to ensure an enabling environment is created for investors who are already implementing their projects and those who have shown interest to invest in a number of sectors.
This is besides the aggressive campaign that the province has embarked upon to market its under-exploited abundant natural resources.
It is in line with this that the province held its first ever infrastructure symposium in the emerging tourist town of Samfya.
Luapula Province Minister Nickson Chilangwa officially opened the symposium which attracted, among others, senior government officials, existing investors and those who have shown interest to invest in the province.
Mr Chilangwa noted that the infrastructure symposium was yet another historical occasion aimed at shaping the future of the province and Zambia after the Luapula Expo and Investment Conference held in 2017.
Over 50 local and international investors, he disclosed, have shown interest to invest in all the seven sectors of the economy, since the 2017 expo. The seven sectors are; agriculture, livestock, fisheries and mining. Others are tourism, forestry and energy.
Mr Chilangwa assured already existing and prospective investors that his administration has put in place measures to improve effective interactions with relevant government departments and institutions.
In this regard the province has put in place an Investment and Promotion committee to act as an interface between investors and government in order not to lose the gains and momentum of the recent expo which was aimed at unlocking the massive potential that the province offers.
“The province is impressed with the response from the investors and is on a marathon to help avoid investor frustrations, exploitation of local people and indeed rampant appropriation of land to speculators,” Mr Chilanga said.
The minister further warned that the province will not tolerate investors who in the past were given land but decided to move at their own pace, saying such acts deprive the people and the nation the economic gains that are supposed to accrue from such investments.
“We remain open to do business with credible investors and as such have put in place a robust due diligence mechanism aimed at vetting all would be investors we accept to do business with.
“We are committed to lead the way in changing tolerance given in the past where developers are given land and investment licenses in good faith by government but they decide to move at a pace slower than that of a snail,” Mr Chilangwa noted.
He further implored line ministries and government institutions to stop the business as usual attitude but help the timely actualization of the investment being harnessed.
“Many a time, investors opt to desert the country and invest elsewhere because of the manner in which our systems are deliberately handled by out technocrats and sometimes political authorities,” he observed.
Mr Chilangwa said that his administration has put its social-economic agenda in corporate mode, where time, efficiency, entrepreneurship and foresight were of prime importance.
Provincial permanent secretary Buleti Nsemukila said the infrastructure symposium was aimed at fast tracking the implementation of various investment and developments in the province in line with the Seventh National Development Plan (SNDP).
Dr Nsemukila said the province was geared to ensure its contribution to the attainment of Zambia’s Vision 2030 was practical, tangible and sustainable.
“We believe that with the comparative advantage we have with regards to natural resource endowment and a visionary traditional leadership, we have what it takes to transform Zambia around,” he said.
Dr Nsemukila however noted that the intermittent electricity supply that the province experiences was sometimes frustrating to investors.
He said unreliable power supply makes it expensive to run businesses as people are forced to use generators, adding that there were a number of investors who have shown interest to invest in alternative sources of energy such as biomass to help stabilize electricity supply which was vital for economic development.
Over 20 investors made presentations during the two-day symposium. Some of the investors who made presentations included Mansa Sugar which has already started implementing its projects.
Among the projects that are underway is the Kasomeno- Mwenda toll gate that will involve the modernization and expansion of a 182 kilometers road on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambian sides as well as the construction of a 345 meter cable stayed bridge across the Luapula river being promoted by GED Africa.
According to GED Zambia country director Marcus Ascott, the project that will be the first Public Private Partnership (PPP) to be undertaken between two countries will provide the shortest link between Dar es salaam and Lubumbashi in the DRC via Luapula province.
“The project cost is $475 million and will also involve the construction of two one-stop border posts on the DRC and Zambian side,” Mr Ascott said.
He revealed that currently the company was undertaking bankable feasibility studies with light works expected after the rain season.
Another project of significance importance not only to Luapula but Zambia as a whole is the $150m Ethanol project that is currently under implementation in Kawambwa. The project is being promoted by Sunbird Bioenergy Africa.
Despite delays in the implementation of the project caused by challenges in accessing land, the project that will have a significant bearing on the price of petrol in Zambia once completed is now back on course.
“It has been quite frustrating to come this far but we are happy that we have been given title for the 10,000 hectares of land we had requested,” Sunbird Bioenergy Africa chief executive officer Richard Bennett lamented.
The firm that is based in the Luena farm block has so far cleared about 500 hectares of land for the nursery which will be used to grow cassava seedlings go be supplied to out grower scheme farmers.
A similar agro related project that has generated a lot of interest aims at processing starch for export and was being promoted by Agro-Pro.
Agro Pro executive chairperson Gerhard Geschwinder says once fully operational, his firm envisages to produce about 250,000 tons of cassava annually that will translate into 60,000 tons of industrial starch.
“A fully operationalized farm will create about 2,500 on the farm and processing plant,” disclosed Mr Geschwinder, whose firm will invest about $50m in the project.
A Zambian engineering company has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Mansa Municipal Council to upgrade and expand the current civic hotel on a build and operate arrangement.
Ditech Engineering managing director Joseph Malisawa said tremendous progress between his company and the council has been recorded and was confident that actual implementation of the project will soon start. About $1.2 million will be injected in this project.
Communication and Transport minister Brian Mushimba reaffirmed government’s commitment to support investment.
Mr Mushimba, who took note of the provincial leadership’s effort to galvanize investment, said there were certain bureaucratic issues that government needed to address.
“As government, we feel that there is really nothing that we can fail to do to facilitate investments,” he assured.
These and many more projects such as Mansa and Kawambwa Sugar plantations, Biomass Energy projects, aqua culture projects and those planned for in the tourisms and mining sectors, once successfully implemented will transform the economic landscape of Luapula, from being the least developed with the highest poverty level to a developed province with minimal poverty levels.
However, it is incumbent upon all stakeholders to ensure that a favorable environment for investment was maintained.