19 January 2013

Zambia: Groundnuts - an Ignored Yet Viable Industry

A LOT of you are wondering about what I am going to write on because you believe that groundnuts are readily available in Zambia.

Yes, it is very true that groundnuts are readily available in Zambia. Actually, it is the second most grown crop after maize. It is grown in all the provinces of Zambia with Eastern Province being the leading producer in the country.

In the world, China produces the most nuts at about 45 per cent, followed by India at 18 per cent. In Africa, Nigeria is the largest producer followed by Sudan, Chad and Senegal in that order. There are only three countries in the top 10, with Nigeria at five per cent (two percentage points less than USA). Although China is the largest world producer, it is the largest importer, followed by the European Union (EU).

In Zambia, groundnuts are mostly grown by women as it is considered to be a woman's crop. It is grown on small plots ranging in size from 0.25 to one hectare.

The crop is usually grown with no inputs apart from the seed and it is planted on newly opened up land. I remember, way back in the village, my grandmother would ensure that she plants groundnuts before any seed. She would not even allow us (boys) to help in planting as there was a belief that groundnuts planted by men do not perform well.

This crop forms a very important component of nutrition at household level, especially in rural communities. In the village, they rarely kill animals more so that they even have chickens.

We could have meat once in a month and every day, our meals comprised the greens (vegetables) and groundnuts were important to make the relish tasty.

As a matter of fact, my best relish up to now is pumpkin leaves with groundnuts. The groundnuts could sometimes be pounded into a paste (icimponde) and we could eat with nshima.

They could add this nutritious stuff to literally everything from dried meat, sweet potatoes, mankolobwe, dried pumpkins, porridge, name them.

However, would you believe me that at some point Zambia used to export groundnuts to the EU? Yes we did, the time of NAMBOARD! Actually, we stopped exporting in the early 90s when it was discovered that the quality of our products were going down, they had too much levels of Aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins (mold) is a fungal infection which is believed to cause cancer when consumed in large amounts and can also cause stunted growth in children (I hope it's not the reason why I am short).

Do you know that the world market for groundnuts has been on the increase? Even here in Zambia, we are failing to meet the demand for whole nuts.

There are four to six companies that process groundnuts into peanut butter. These companies have been demanding for groundnuts to be used in their factories but the demand outmatches supply.

Why is it like this? There are so many reasons why our production has failed to meet demand. Let me share with you three major problems besides so many.

Firstly, we are a country that has put more emphasis on maize to the extent that even some of our public extension officers have forgotten about how to offer advice in groundnut production.

There has just been too much emphasis on maize production. The second reason is that our productivity (yield per unit area) is far much too low.

The average national yield per hectare is 0.44t/ha. This is less than USA whose average yield is 2.80t/ha and even less than South Africa, which averages 2.33t/ha.

Our yields are far much less than even Sudan which is mostly a desert. One of the contributing factors to the low productivity is the reason I want to ponder on so much this morning - non availability of improved seed. Can you imagine that the crop which is the second most grown after maize has no company that produces hybrid seed? Talk about all the seed companies around, not even a single company is producing any seed.

All the farmers that grow groundnut seed use grain or recycled seed to plant for their production. Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI), through Msekera and GART, have done their best to release high yielding and oil containing varieties like MGV4, MGV5, Chishango and many others, but surprisingly no seed company has come on board to multiply these varieties for sale.

Sadly enough, no commercial farmer grows groundnuts; the largest area I have known to be put under groundnut production is six (6) hectares by an emergent farmer. If you calculate the gross margins for groundnuts and compare them with maize (smallholder farmers), it is more profitable to grow nshaba than maize, but because of the brain washing, we all go for maize even if it means getting our money in February of the following year for a crop supplied in July. For groundnuts, one is paid cash-on-delivery, no promissory notes.

The other let down has been with our laws. According to SCCI, a farmer growing seed should have a minimum of five hectares for one to qualify to produce seed. With the crop predominantly grown by the smallholder farmers, most of the seed that they produce is classified as QDS (breeders can amplify what this means).

We need to repeal our laws on seed multiplication because farmers of the 1900s are not like farmers of 2000s. They have been trained on seed production, so the area should not be a limiting factor for one to produce seed as long as SCCI inspects it and meets the basic requirements.

The Government should facilitate capacity building of SCCI so that they can effectively monitor groundnut seed multiplication.

What is most annoying is that the same Government that refuses to recognise the smallholder seed growers floats tenders to buy groundnut seed as was the case this planting season.

What the suppliers of those seeds used to do (I presume ) was that they were buying grain from Soweto Market and sorting it before supplying it to FISP as seed.

Can the Government ask their suppliers from where they got the seed that was distributed to farmers? Some small seed growers like the women groups in Eastern Province that work through SMEs like EPFC are disadvantaged.

We need to quickly put our house in order as regards the groundnut industry. I am asking the minister of Agriculture to quickly form a task force on the groundnut industry which will comprise members from SCCI, ZARI, ZNFU, FRA, MAL, processors, traders, farmers, transporters, and financiers, and I am offering myself to sit on that board free.

We have a very big opportunity in groundnut industry as it also helps to sink the atmospheric nitrogen (fix nitrogen in the soil).

Please take this with the seriousness it deserves as groundnuts form a very important part of Zambia's food security.

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