The Zambian government is developing a 100 000ha commercial farming block around the town of Serenje in the country’s Central Province. According to Henry Sichembe, deputy director of technical services in Zambia’s agriculture department, this includes a 9 350ha core venture and three supporting commercial farms ranging from 3 000ha to 5 000ha, with the balance spread around large-, medium- and small-scale farms.
The Nansanga farming block will comprise 347 freehold titled farms. The government has already provided basic infrastructure, including roads, bridges, electricity, dams and boreholes.
Central Province minister Ackimson Banda said that the phase one construction of a 33kV power line into the farming block had been completed. In addition, one of three bridges has been built and the entire road network of 155km was completed by the China Geo-Engineering Corporation in the first quarter of 2010.
According to Sichembe, the Zambian government is currently preparing pre-qualification for interested investors. “The core venture will be driven by a private sector investor, who will be expected to put up processing plants that would support agribusiness activity in the area,” he explained.
“Small, medium and large farmers in the block will be able to enter into outgrower relationships with the core venture farmer, who will enable them to market their products to local and international markets.” A 2002 presidential directive identified agriculture as one of the engines of economic growth in Zambia, and proposed that a block of commercial farms be established in every province.
“The directive originated with the realisation that Zambia could no longer depend on copper income, because of its unreliability,” said Sichembe. “The slump in mineral prices validated this logic and the Nansanga block was identified as the priority for 2010.
“Past efforts to reduce poverty in Zambia by developing agriculture weren’t successful because of the poor state of rural infrastructure – investors weren’t interested. The concept of farm blocks changes that, and we have received serious interest from foreign investors, especially the Chinese.”
Sichembe said the farm block concept would increase Zambia’s production of maize – the country’s staple – as well as that of wheat, soya beans, groundnuts, sugar and rice. “Zambia can today consider itself a ‘hub’ rather than a land-locked nation. From a strategic point of view, the country has every reason to take advantage of its vast land resources to develop agriculture in this way,” said Sichembe.