Zambia is a landlocked country situated on the southern central African plateau with an area of approximately 750,000 square km. It has a population of 13 million people, most of who depend on agriculture for their income, employment and food. Despite this, less than 20% of GDP comes from agriculture. Zambia has high rates of poverty, especially in rural areas.
Presently, three out of four Zambians live in poverty and more than half of them are unable to meet their minimum nutritional needs. In rural parts of the country, about 83% of the inhabitants are poor, and 71% of them are extremely poor.
Although the country has experienced a decade of economic growth, this has not had much impact on reducing poverty mainly due to a stagnant agriculture sector, rural/urban inequality and chronic undernutrition.
The climate is tropical, with cooler temperatures at higher altitudes. Increasing rainfall variability and drought periods have limited Zambia's agricultural growth over the last decade since most crop production is rainfed.
The country's main food crops are maize, sorghum, cassava and millet. Cash crops, including cotton, tobacco and vegetables, are gaining importance. Productivity of most staple crops has been stagnant.
Agriculture in Zambia
Smallholder farmers in Zambia find the going tough due to lack of infrastructure and capacities as well as access to technologies and credit. Key issues affecting Zambian agriculture include:
- Low productivity
- Inadequate government investment in agriculture
- Poor infrastructure
- Seasonal variability
- Limited areas of cultivation.
Most smallholder farmers cultivate less than 2 hectares of land and have very low productivity.
Smallholder farming in Zambia is dominated by maize, which is grown by 80% of all smallholders. Yet they suffer from low returns. Most smallholders produce only 1 ton of maize/ha while the national average productivity in a very good year is 2 tons/ha. Only 2% of the farmers contribute to 50% of the marketed maize. Agriculture policies favor high dependence on maize with a large part of public spending going toward maize production and marketing; thus favoring wealthier farmers who produce a marketable surplus.
Production levels in Zambia vary considerably, but even in years of bumper harvests, not all household needs are met. In average years, 60% of farmers face a hungry season for several months, which is particularly acute during November, December, January and February.