The fall in the world price of copper has caused the Zambian government to rethink its economic policies and diversify its revenue base to agriculture. Hobbs Gama reports from Lusaka.
Copper was once Zambia's main source of foreign currency earnings. From the early 1960s to the late 1980s, the metal was Zambia's economic mainstay, employing thousands of migrant labourers from the neighbouring countries of central and southern Africa.
But several negative factors, most notably the steep drop in the price of copper and, more recently, the disappointing failure of the privatisation of the mines, has seen Zambia's mining sector lose its lustre.
The government's response, with donor assistance, has been to formulate revival measures to make the agriculture sector a priority. These measures include the sourcing of long-term soft loans, introducing zero-rates of tax on imported farming machinery, and capping power tariffs.
At the Zambia Agriculture Investment Conference (ZAIPC) at the Pamodzi Hotel in the capital Lusaka, President Levy Mwanawasa said the policy was aimed at shifting the focus to agriculture as Zambia's bread winner. Delegates to ZAIPC, initiated by the Bank of Zambia and the CDC Capital Partners also heard Mwanawasa insist that agriculture will be his government's priority. "As a result," he said "more Zambians will engage in farming, and it will create jobs, earn foreign exchange and improve food production."
Zambia's Central Bank governor, Caleb Fundanga, criticised the fact that so little had previously been done to stimulate, promote and attract investment in the agricultural industry. "Now the aim is to see an increase in the production of food and ensure food security so that the country moves away from importing food," Fundanga stated.
For the past two consecutive growing seasons, Zambia was among the six states of southern Africa that were severely hit by food shortages due to erratic weather conditions, including floods and drought in some parts of the region. In 2002, Zambia was confronted with a 635,000mt cereal deficit. That resulted in rocketing food prices, and nearly three million people needing emergency food aid.
DONOR IMPOSED REFORMS
When, in 1991, Zambia changed to multiparty politics under former President Frederick Chiluba, his government liberalised the economy and removed agriculture subsidies in compliance with International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank aid...