AN agriculture export-oriented sector is critical in the country’s effort to achieve economic growth and development.
Agriculture plays an important role in ensuring food security and creating jobs and source of livelihood.
In Zambia, the sector consists of small scale or subsistent, medium scale and large scale or commercial farmers.
The sector employs nearly 70 per cent of the labour force and remains the main source of income and employment for most of the people living in rural areas.
The Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP) and Economic Recovery Programme recognise agriculture as one of the key sectors critical for achieving diversification, economic growth and poverty reduction in Zambia.
Domestic production in this country comprises crops such as maize, sorghum, millet, and cassava while exports are driven by sugar, soybeans, coffee, groundnuts, rice, and cotton as well as horticultural produce.
Most of the agriculture products in Zambia are exported to the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) through the Kasumbalesa border and the great lakes region through the Mpulungu habour.
According to the Zambia Statistics Agency (ZamStats), the export earnings for agriculture products average around K5 billion a month.
Over the years, the government and stakeholders have been working on increasing the exports of agricultural products to reduce the dependence on copper which is currently the country’s export earner.
The DRC is the country’s nearest and lucrative market for Zambia’s agricultural produce.
Crops like maize and its by-products are on high demand and just last year, the government of Zambia and DRC signed an agreement to export about 1.1 million tonnes of the staple crop.
Other agricultural produce like vegetables, groundnuts, soyabeans are on a daily basis exported to the DRC market.
However, the exports of agriculture produce to some lucrative international market have been a challenge.
According to the Zambia Export Development Fund, fresh agriculture producers have failed to meet the international requirement and standards.
ZEDF fund manager David Chewe says the fresh produce producers have failed to penetrate the international market due to failure to meet regulations on food safety and hygiene.
Dr Chewe says producers are failing to meet the required standards and certification for their products to be accepted on the international market.
“We have farmers that produce vegetables, chickens and other agricultural produce which are demanded on the international market but could not be accepted because of safety, hygiene, standards and certification gaps,” he said.
Dr Chewe says the export market also needs to trace where products are being produced and what kind of fertilisers for vegetables and what type of vaccines and feeding are used to produce them.
He says ZEDF with the help of stakeholders are working on a roadmap to resolve the challenges that are hindering the Zambian fresh produce to penetrate the South African market, for instance.
Dr Chewe says ZEDF and stakeholders are conducting workshops with producers to see how they can resolve these challenges.
He says once these challenges are resolved, Zambia will start exporting its fresh produce to South Africa and other international markets.
On the other hand, the country has managed to meet the phytosanitary requirements to export the fruit into Europe, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and South Africa.
According to Agriculture Permanent Secretary Green Mbozi, Zambia became the first southern African country to meet the phytosanitary requirements to export the fruits into Europe.
Mr Mbozi says the export of avocados marks the start of huge market opportunities for Zambia’s growers.
The country also exports blueberries to China and other parts of the world with an export value of $3.04 million and an export volume of 383, 920 tonnes annually.
Because Zambia has the favourable climate to grow almost all types of cash crops for both the local and international market, there is need for the country to prioritise agriculture by increasing production.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently urged the country to be a spotlight for agriculture exports as the world faces food insecurity.
IMF managing director, Kristalina Georgieva says Zambia should utilise its potential for agriculture to grow its economy and reduce poverty.
Ms Georgieva says Zambia has vast potential to be an exporter of assorted agriculture products to the world market.
She says the country is blessed with natural capital (soil) and favourable climate for agriculture products which it should utilise.
“You need to take advantage of this to grow the economy and reduce poverty by producing more and exporting to the world market which is currently food insecure,” she said.
For Zambia to increase its agriculture export and earn more foreign exchange, the government and stakeholders should increase investment in agriculture production.
Increased production can only be achieved through agriculture mechanization.
Currently, the country posts low yields in crops like maize and wheat which are in high demand on the export market.
High dependency on rain-fed agriculture has made the country produce less for both the local and international market.
The country needs to conduct more sensitisation and education among producers on how they can improve the quality of their products to meet the requirement of some lucrative export market.