Exclusive interview with Dr Evelyn Nguleka, President of the Zambia National Farmers Union – the owner of the Agritech Expo.
1) How would you describe the response from the Zambian agri community to the first Agritech Expo last year?
Fantastic! It was by far more than anticipated. All major agricultural stakeholders from our small scale to large and corporate farmers, and our agribusiness firms embraced the Agritech wholeheartedly, thus their overwhelming turn out and participation.
2) Was there anything that surprised you?
First, it was the over subscription of the event. Our initial under estimation of smallholder farmers’ appreciation and demand for mechanization and other productivity enhancing technologies. Inquiries and subsequent machinery purchases by our smallholder farmers left mechanization supply side over-stretched.
Second was the actual sales by some mechanization companies during the Agritech. Never before have we had sales of over a million USD at an agricultural show. This only goes to prove the huge business potential associated with Agritech.
Thirdly, it was the lack of ATM and POS units at the show by Banks. This limited cashless sales and banks lost out on business.
3) What is the ZNFU’s message at this year’s Agritech? What are you hoping for with this year’s show?
This year, our aim is to make Agritech bigger, stronger and real. We have increased the exhibition space. We have also dedicated one of the three days as a focus day for commercial and emerging commercial farmers.
Agritech has proven itself not only as networking platform, but a unique and targeted business platform, where actual sales happen. We therefore want to see exhibitors and participant to this time around come in ready to transact, i.e. sell and buy.
We are also looking forward to special discounts by our agribusiness firms during the Agritech 2015. A training for exhibitors on how to make sales and awareness of participants special offers will the help ignite actual sales.
4) Let’s focus on the ZNFU, any specific projects that your organization is focusing on currently?
We have continued innovating and diversifying services support initiatives at ZNFU. In 2015 our focus will be on:
1. Popularizing our recently-launched ZNFU prepaid visa to all our members and stakeholders as a smart inputs access and payment solution,
2. Increasing the number of smallholder farmers accessing inputs and asset finance from our on-going Lima Scheme, Bunjimi Asset Plus Scheme and other upcoming inputs and asset schemes with our partners we are piloting and/or about to launch,
3. Developing more Agricultural Service Centres as one-stop centres for inputs, machinery/equipment, and commodity marketing platforms, and
4. Facilitating our members’ access to title deeds of their land.
5) What in your view are the main challenges for the agricultural sector in Zambia?
Zambian agriculture is faced with the challenge of poor productivity and high cost of production. These two factors are negatively affecting our agricultural competitiveness. This is why the Union has continued engaging stakeholders in seeking measures that will help melt away the two major challenges mentioned above.
6) What are the main reasons you would give someone to invest in Zambian agri-sector?
If not in Zambia, then where else? One has just to look at our natural resource endowments, our economic and political stability, our geo location and progressive investment policies, then need not scratch their head thinking where to invest if you want to be part of the current agricultural transformation in Africa.
7) What is your vision for the sector, also in terms of the region?
Zambia has traditionally been known as the bread basket of the region. For example, at the moment, Zambia is the only country that is self-sufficient on wheat production. We would like to strengthen this position and continue to make Zambia relevant in the region in as far as agriculture is concerned. Zambia is surrounded by eight neighbours who are a potential market for agricultural produce. Our vision is that, when the region thinks of food, it should think Zambia.
8) What are you expectations from government?
During Agritech 2014 we were amazed at how much support we got from the government. The then Vice President of the Republic of Zambia was on hand to grace the occasion, accompanied by several government officials. We would like this kind of government support to continue. Also, when there are issues to sort out, we would like the government to lend us an ear. We need to be able to generate and drive agricultural policy together.
9) Anything you would like to add?
We would like Agritech 2015 to be better. We saw from the over-subscription last year that this is what the farming community needs. We would like to build on last year’s successes and make this event one that farmers and other agri-business players will always be looking forward to.