Zambia agriculture comprises of crops, livestock and fisheries. Its main cultivated crop is maize corn which its staple food. Other major crops include cotton, soya beans, tobacco, groundnuts paprika sorghum, wheat, rice, sunflower coffee, sugar cane, flowers and vegetables. Agricultural pursuits in the country employ the majority of Zambia’s labour force. Currently only one sixth of its arable land is under cultivation.
In this narrative I am going to dwell and focus more on the country’s’ sugar cane production. Sugar cane plantations are located in the southern district of the country and are operated by Zambia Sugar. Mazambuka which is located 150 kilometers away from Lusaka is the country’s sweet region as it is affectionately called and houses Zambia Sugar Head Offices. The company owns, operates and maintains Nakambala Sugar Estates. It cultivates over 77000 hectares of irrigated farmland. The firm took over Nanga farms Private limited who owned sugar farms adjacent to Nakambala Sugar Estates with a production capacity in excess of 350 000 tonnes of raw cane annually. It also operates an out grower scheme an initiative of the Zambian government which is funded by the Finish government and the African Development Bank. The scheme involves over 145 small scale sugar producers who grow sugar cane on their land and sell it to the company. This has changed and improved the livelihoods of the small-scale farmers and brought development to the region. The company now employs over ten thousand employees and this is expected to increase by the end of 2020. Sugar cane production for the country has grown from a mare 256000 tonnes in 1969 to 4, 46 million tonnes by the end of 2018. With the opening up of new fields and out grower’s schemes being introduced this is expected to rise by 2020. Sugar constitutes 4% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 6% of its national exports.
Zambia is one of the lowest cost producers of sugar globally. Growth in the industry therefore holds great prospects for economic diversification and employment creation. Despite being a low cost producer, the country’s sugar industry is constrained by high transmission costs. Legislation on Vitamin A fortification of sugar also increases production costs. This is a significant barrier to entry for potential entrants. Water rights and the insecurity of the customary land tenure have also emerged as major issues requiring attention to enhance investment into the sector. Again lack of an articulate sugar plantation policy to provide strategic guidance for development scares away would be investors. In order to attract private sector investment and enhance growth, government policy should ensure water rights and land tenure security for establishment of sugar plantations. Zambia exports its sugar mostly to the European Union and exports little within the region. It is imperative that government explores more regional markets for this commodity. It should also ensure .that power for irrigation at plantations is not cut so as not to disturb production. Interruption of power and draught are a major factor to reducing yields hence government should come up with ways to mitigate this to the satisfaction of the sugar companies as this will also encourage new players to enter into sugar production.
Commercial farmers in Zambia account for 60% of the country’s total supply working on almost 24000 hectares of land. The country is working on ethanol production from its sugarcane and expects to raise its sugar output by 70% within the next five years. With this the country’s sugar industry is destined to grow significantly and change the economic landscape of the country.