Exclusive interview with Donald Mavindidze, Country Manager Monsanto, silver sponsor at the upcoming Agritech Expo from 5-6 April 2014 in Chisamba, Zambia.
1) What products, services and projects of Monsanto are you most excited about at the moment?
Monsanto in Zambia is mainly involved in hybrid seed maize. We also do some crop protection products, mainly herbicides but our main products are really maize seeds. Right now we are in the process of coming up with new products. It has been some time since we have developed new ones. This is very exciting, and soon we will have a lot of new products that will blow the market away. Watch this space during the next two years or so. We will display some of these new products that we are still testing during Agritech Expo. What is also exciting about the company is that we have grown our market share over the past two or three years as we have grown our commercial organisation.
2) What makes your company competitive in this market?
What makes Monsanto competitive are the resources that we have to develop new products that are suitable for the conditions in Zambia. We have a lot of genetic resources that we can tap into to breed various aspects that pose challenges to Zambia. Also our commitment to quality, excellence and customer focus – we are really focused on the end user of our product and we go to any length to make sure that the farmer gets the results expected from our product.
3) Any specific projects or success stories you would like to share?
All along our main target market has been the small farmer. We have lots of testimonies from farmers who are happy with our products that are drought tolerant, disease resistant and produce better yields. We are in the process of developing even better products and others that are more suited to the commercial farming segment.
4) What in your view are the main challenges for the agricultural sector in Zambia?
I think the big challenge is over-regulation. Although the government is taking steps to relax it a bit, more can still be done. Specifically the trade in maize is highly regulated, there is a government price and exports are really restricted. This prevents the country from expanding its maize production and yet there is a lot of potential to do so. Perhaps Zambia has the best potential for maize production expansion in the Southern Africa region. Farmers are very cautious when it comes to maize production because they are not sure of the prices they will get at the end of the season. Government has taken some steps to remove subsidies which is a move in the right direction, and moving forward we would like to see a commodity exchange in place so that the trade in maize is more market driven.
The other constraint is the country’s infrastructure: the bad state of roads and rail and lack of storage. There is a government project in place to address the infrastructure problem. Zambia has about 40% of the fresh water resources in Africa and this is not exploited at the moment. If it is put to good use we can feed the region and indeed Africa. The problem is that Zambia is landlocked and the cheapest way to export would be rail, but it is not in a good state. If we can get our railroad to work efficiently and get our industry to be driven by market forces, we will be able to pride ourselves to be one of the biggest producers of maize. We have the resources and climate. If the lack of storage infrastructure is also addressed it will take away the problem of maize crops being spoilt.
5) What advice would you give someone who is interested in investing in the Zambian agri-sector?
I would tell them that the time to invest in Zambia is now, a lot is happening. We have lots of arable land, a conducive climate for cropping and a lot of water. The government is trying to create a conducive environment for agricultural investments. Zambia is definitely the best destination for agricultural investment in the region.
6) What is your vision for the sector, also in terms of the region?
My vision is to see Zambia being a major agricultural producer for the whole world. They say if you take parts of Angola, Zambia, DRC, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and parts of Zimbabwe and fully exploit that area, we will have enough resources to feed the world. I see this region playing a big part in feeding the world in the future. We need to put a few things in place and I believe we are well on our way, this include infrastructure development and the creation of conducive environment by government to encourage investment.
7) Why did you decide to partner with AgriTech Expo?
We’ve always used GART as a platform to showcase our products to the farmers in the past. We did not want to lose this opportunity, so we want to continue with the new format. We look forward to the Expo and hopefully can continue to gain visibility within the farming community.
8 ) What will be your main message at AgriTech Expo?
Our main message is that as Monsanto as we expand our commercial activities in Zambia, we would like to reaffirm our commitment to the agriculture industry in Zambia and that we are here for the long haul. We have great products and we are busy developing even better products. Our aim is to work with various stakeholders to enable ordinary Zambian farmers to produce more, conserve more and improve their lives.