With the COVID-19 pandemic triggering a fall in the price of copper , this spelt doom to many Zambian copper miners who depended solely on mining as a source of income.
Nevertheless, this is not the case with the Serenje community, whose entire workforce has turned to agriculture.
Young Zambians in this community are being offered a ray of hope in the form of an agricultural project that is both an alternative to copper mining as a way out of poverty and a key element in the policy of the Zambian government to diversify its economy away from a heavy reliance on copper.
Sylvia Chafungwa, a young woman living in Serenje in central Zambia, is a farmer and the treasurer of one of its farmers’ associations. The Agriculture Productivity and Market Enhancement Project (APMEP) program, Chafungwa says, helped her to better cultivate maize, soy and rice on land she inherited from her father. “We realized that agriculture can put food on our table and offer us a sustainable source of income. So we all became farmers,” she said.
The APMEP initiative is financed by the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), a Financial Intermediary Fund hosted within the World Bank Group. GAFSP provided $31.13 million in grant funds to the Zambian government for APMEP, and the African Development Bank disbursed the money and provided technical expertise.
APMEP is developing irrigation schemes, intensifying agricultural mechanization, promoting conservation agriculture, crop diversification, and enhanced aquaculture and livestock development in Zambia as part of an integrated agriculture value chain development under the Ministry of Agriculture. The project contributes to economic growth and poverty reduction by enhancing food security, incomes, and nutrition among participating households.
The Bank’s Director of Agriculture and Agro-Industry Martin Fregene, said, “GAFSP has provided farmers with ways to improve their livelihoods and created employment, especially for vulnerable people like women and youth in rural areas.”
In Serenje, APMEP is planning the construction of four irrigation schemes on more than 2,000 hectares of land. These will provide adequate water for farmers like Chafungwa and her community to carry out conservation agriculture, a farming system that promotes minimum soil disturbance and promotes the cultivation of diverse crops throughout the year.
Before the new infrastructure was installed, the project supported rain-fed crop cultivation in the 2018 and 2019 seasons. During this time, APMEP trained farmers in crop management and offered opportunities to earn income by weeding and harvesting the crops. Farmers are now implementing the techniques they learned in their fields. The farmers’ association in Serenje owns the irrigation scheme and operates it commercially, under the leadership of a scheme manager.
Since the beginning of the program, 62,000 people – about 56% of the women – have benefitted from the project.
“This project is making a transformational impact on livelihoods among community members in terms of food security and income. It has changed people’s mindset on agriculture as a business, especially in the central districts of the project,” said Sylvester Mwanza, APMEP’s National Project Coordinator.
The initiative is part of a longer-term drive-by Zambia’s government to diversify its economy away from copper. At its peak, copper accounted for 70% of Zambia’s foreign exchange earnings and close to 30% of government revenue. But following the 2008 global economic crisis, copper prices plunged by two-thirds – prompting the government to invest more in sustainable resources like agriculture.
Bank agricultural specialists assisted the APMEP team with the project implementation and provided tools and technical expertise in best practices and inputs. Philip Boahen, Chief Agriculture Policy Economist at the Bank and Coordinator of the GAFSP Portfolio, said the training that Chafungwa and her community received has enabled them to build a sustainable agri-business by making the most of improved seeds, fertilizers, irrigation infrastructure and financing.
“It is life-changing and I can see all the benefits of this project for me, my family, and the whole community in Serenje,” said Chafungwa, adding that she hopes her association will soon be able to buy more tractors and other farm equipment.
The African Development Bank, as the supervising entity of the GAFSP program in Africa, offers technical support in 12 countries: Liberia, Kenya, Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Benin, Malawi, Niger, Tanzania, Central Africa Republic, Cote d’Ivoire and Zambia, with a total portfolio value of $372.43 million.