By Scoop Reporter

AN America agricultural charity has partnered with a Zambian firm in one of the most ambitious agriculture initiatives ever, seeking to turn 125,000 hectares of land into a green belt, with 250,000 small-scale farmers benefiting.

The private sector initiative will include an out-grower crop input scheme which will support the 250,000 farmers to double their maize production and feed more than 10 million people in Zambia and the region.

The initiative which will be implemented in Eastern, North-Western, Central, Lusaka and Copperbelt under phase one, aims to create jobs for the youth, improve farming practices among small-scale farmers, by providing them affordable inputs and technologies as well as soil fertility  testing facilities.

African Green Resources (AGR), one of Zambia’s leading farm inputs suppliers has signed an agreement with a United States- based African Fertiliser and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) to implement the project.

The partnership was accented to last Thursday by AGR chairman Zuneid Yousuf and AFAP president and chief executive officer, Jason Scarpone.

AGR will partner with local and regional collaborators, farmer associations and 40, 000 cooperatives under the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry to undertake the programme.

Credit packages of seed, fertiliser and training will be provided to farmers who will be linked to commercial input dealers.

Mr. Yousuf said the partnership also seeks to add value to soya beans and maize to produce stock feed, among products.

He sees the need to ensure food is made in Zambia and beneficiated to supply retain outlets.

The initiative wants to translate into food and job security, especially among young people.

He regrets that despite Zambia being one of the largest maize growers globally, its yields are low because of poor soil fertility, in most cases.

In the 2018/2019 season, Zambia’s national average yield rate for maize was 2.52 tonnes per hectare, far below Egypt at 8 and South Africa’s 4 tonnes.

However, Zambia’s 2019/2020 maize production is projected to increase to over 3.3 million metric tonnes from around 2 million metric tonnes in the previous season.

“We foresee yields per hectare doubling, where we are doing two tonnes, we are going to have four tonnes,” he said.

In phase two, the partnership will endeavour to build capacity among farmers to add value to livestock by-products.

Currently, the partnership feels apart from meat, nothing much is being extracted from livestock.

“Our research has shown that we have about 130,000 herds of cattle in Mumbwa alone, 35,000 in Kabwe, Kapiri Mposhi has about 67,000 while Itezhi-Tezhi has 140,000.

“They [farmers] do not know how to add value on the skin hides. They do not know how to add value on the bones. From the bones, you can make phosphate fertiliser and this is why we are partnering with AFAP so that part of fertiliser can be converted and made in Zambia,” said Mr. Yousuf.

It is his desire for private sector-driven programmes to help Government avert the dwindling Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which has been adversely affected by the global pandemic.

The poor performance of GDP has also had a negative impact on the agricultural sector.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit report on Zambia of June 4 this year, growth between 2020 and 2024, will considerably be below the country’s long-term aspirations.

This year, Zambia’s economy is projected to contract by 3.8 percent in real terms, owing to COVID-19-related global shutdown.

“So, this will cause a lot of problems for youths, farmers and households.  The consumption behaviour will also go down.

“So, should we wait and watch who is going to do this? It is ourselves as Zambians and so, AGR has stepped up and other NGOs have to step up,” said Mr. Yousuf.

He said AGR resolved to partner with AFAP because it is renowned globally for organising fertiliser guarantees and financing.

AFAP draws a range of development finance institutions, including matching grants and collaborations with the African Union (AU)’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), the Common Market  for Eastern  and Southern Africa(COMESA), Afrexim Bank, African Development Bank and European Union.

“AFAP’s role is not only sourcing fertiliser guarantees and credit lines, but to also act as an adviser for downstream activities like value addition.

“Because AFAP is in touch with suppliers of all these inputs, we decided as AGR to partner with them for Zambia and also the region in addressing climate smart agriculture,” said Mr. Yousuf.

And Mr. Scarpone said the crop input scheme will include farmer connectivity and digital solutions, among advocacy, and operational support, including 150,000 metric tonnes of high quality fertilisers for improved nutrition.

“Vulnerable communities may face the most devastating food crisis in decades. If we don’t act now, millions of people especially the youth will be pushed into deep poverty, and hunger,” said Mr Scarpone.

He said the partnership has a responsibility to support vulnerable farming communities to help avert a hunger crisis.

Mr Scarpone said the initiative provides a good model on how the private sector and individual companies can step up, in collaboration with African institutions, Governments and organisations like the World Food Programme (WFP), to sustain production and food supply chains, to safeguard people who are at most risk in the COVID-19 era.


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