18 February 2013

Zambia: Chirwa Moots Agro Sector Growth Plan

JAMES Emmanuel Chirwa, director-general of the Zambia Cooperative Federation (ZCF) has under his sleeves a growing vision that might change the face of the agricultural sector and many lives, if well-supported and implemented.

In fact, this vision has already started manifesting the potential of working out, as an apt working environment seemingly created by the seemingly unwavering Patriotic Front (PF) Government that emphasizes reduction of poverty levels through job creation.

Mr Chirwa is now confident that the cooperative movement that has seen decades of inactivity mainly due to unfavourable political will, now sees an open window of progress through what Government has laid out as some of its priorities in the quest of changing people's lives.

ZFC is one of the longest surviving cooperative movements that has lived to tell the tale of unstable times, especially after the former ruling party namely the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) ascended to power in 1991.

Amazingly, this did not completely take the entire life of the "Movement" as it stood firm with some lifeline that has seen it awaken after a fresh breeze of political wind did sweep though the country in 2011.

Mr Chirwa and his team are seemingly working tirelessly in ensuring the realisation of a pertinent dream when he said: "We are now in a post-liberalisation era that underlines our unflinching commitment to reforming the federation into a commercially viable agri-business player."

In this respect, ZCF has come up with a five-year strategic business plan, which if implemented, might just be a missing piece in the puzzle of unlocking the potential of Zambia's agroicultural sector.

The first business strategic plan runs from the year 2012 to 2017 and to kickstart this mammoth project, all ZCF needs is KR 470 million.

With this capital injection, Mr Chirwa projects an eight-month period of manifesting results that will see drastic reduction in importation of finished goods as processing plants for raw agro produce will have been put up.

"This trend must be reversed because we will be able to produce and process our own agro goods for local consumption and even for export," he says.

Through this five-year, strategic business plan, Mr Chirwa sees a sharpened, innovatively designed, and creatively packaged, vision, mission, core values, objectives and actions taking root in ushering in a new era of operational efficiency for a self-sustaining, market-driven and bankable ZCF.

"Our ultimate goal is to optimise profits and deliver dividends and agri-business services to our primary shareholders, the Primary Cooperative Societies (PCS)," he says.

Explaining the strategic business plan further, the ZCF DG says, "Through the optimisation of corporate governance principles and culture, as enshrined in the core values which ZCF has adopted, management and staff of the movement shall be motivated to think innovatively, scientifically and sustainably in developing and delivering services and products.

"Through this plan, we have confidently positioned ourselves to lead the process of agri-business development in Zambia and beyond.

We shall also take advantage of the multi-sectoral nature of co-operatives and ensure that our operations are spread to other sectors such as; manufacturing (agro processing for value addition), transport, tourism, education, health and other service provision sectors," he says.

The ZCF director-general has spelt out the fact that challenges encountered during this process shall not halt the implementation of the plan that is already on a fast-running wheel but instead provide a springboard that will make the once latent cooperative movement emerge as a giant in the agricultural industry.

"Our aim is to become a significant co-driver of Zambia's Sixth National Development Plan (2012-2016), towards the attainment of Vision 2030 and consolidating Zambia's position as a Middle Income Country," he says.

In this rather go-getting strategic business plan of ZCF, Mr Chirwa hopes to tackle the issue of rural urban migration through the establishment of processing plants of all agro raw materials in the rural set-up so that from there, farmers would be able to sell their produce and have it processed from right there.

"This move will surely help decongest the town as people will have decent employments close to their doorsteps and will see no need of coming to the urban to look for a job,"he says.

He also sees a great financial benefit to the Government as many food processing industries will be established, hence widening the tax base.

Cutting down on unnecessary costs due to double handling of the raw agro material is seen coming out as a reality in this plan if implemented as on paper.

"This will cut down on the unnecessary costs during the transportation of the raw material like maize from Lundazi to Lusaka for milling, and then taken back again to Lundazi as a finished product, why should we do that?" wonders Mr Chirwa.

Accessibility and availability of milling plants in all strategic district locations would reduce the issue of double handling of food like maize whose prices have continued to fluctuate mainly because of the transportation of the involved in the whole process.

The costly process can simply be described as; from the farmer, the product in its raw form goes to a transporter who takes it to the Food Reserve Agency ( FRA), from FRA it will be transported to the miller who upon completion of the milling and packaging will transport it to selling deports situated in various districts.

Now, carefully scrutinising the whole of this process will reveal a huge cost that gives millers a reason to hike the prices of the commodity.

Millers Association of Zambia (MAZ) President Allan Sakala agrees that the hiking of the maize meal is usually attributed to the transportation of the raw material which is maize.

"Putting up milling plants close to the source of maize will be a good idea that can help in reducing the price of mealie-meal," he says.

The issue of looking up to Lusaka, the political and economical hub of the nation as the only place where development should take centre stage is what Zambia's President Michael Sata seems to be against.

This is evident by looking at recent data of his vigorous campaign of making decentralisation, a reality through the creation of many more districts including an extra province.

These efforts by President Sata seem to go in conformity with the plan that ZCF would like to implement of mainly getting recognition as a vital gear in the private sector and a key link between the smallholder farming community and broader agribusiness, mobilising and connecting this group of Farm producers to traders, and processors.

This certainly looks like a good job creation mechanism in perspective and all its success will depend on Government will to financially support this project whose returns seem promisingly rich.

A strong partnership with the Government is of ultimate necessity in the execution of this project and that's all Mr Chirwa wants.

He has sung praises of the Government for showing political will of helping bring back to life this once-upon- a- time giant in the agro business sector that seem to take an decisive step towards regaining past glory.

With a mass membership of more than 3.5 million people, the ZCF movement is geographically spread all over the country and boasts many structures and skilled staff, experienced in milling, retailling, agro- shops and warehouse.

ZCF's main goal in this entire plan is to take production close to the source of agro- raw materials such as maize, beef, fish, groundnuts, fruits to mention just a few. With such a development, a job-generating platform, productivity would automatically come to the fore.

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