Poultry Association of Zambia (PAZ) chairperson Veronica Machungwa has warned that the erratic load-shedding currently being experienced will force small and upcoming enterprises out of business if not well handled.

In an interview with News Diggers!, Machungwa expressed concern that the load-shedding was erratic in some parts of the country as Zesco did not really stick to its time-table of power outages, thereby affecting businesses.

Machungwa explained that poultry farmers would be gravely affected as their type of business required a stable power supply to grow chickens.

She feared that the erratic power supply, which Zesco officially commenced this month, would lead to lifting of the ban on importation of chickens and chicken products that would in-turn force Zambian chicken farmers out of business.

“The farmers’ profits are being eroded every day and with this type of load-shedding, I actually foresee a lot of farmers going out of business because they will not just be able to afford the feed. The problem we have, especially for the broilers is that for a very long time, feed has been going up and up, but the price of the chickens has not changed, the price of the eggs has also never moved. So, the person being squeezed is the farmer and there is a limit to what point a farmer can be squeezed because they, too, have to pay for services around like everybody else pays. And these keep going up, but for their products, people are resisting the price. So, the coming of the Zesco load-shedding just exacerbates the problem that we already have. With the unpredictable load-shedding in some cases, if you are looking at the egg – chicken production, production drops when there isn’t enough power supply,” Machungwa explained.

“And then you have this feed, which has gone up, but then you have no power for your chickens… even just for a day, you get affected. So, it is impacting pretty badly on the farmers. Yes, I realise this is one thing we can’t run away from and it’s something we have to deal with right now, but it would help if at least they (Zesco) could consider where the famers are. If you say you are going to load-shed for such a period, then stick to that because it is frustrating where you tell people ‘we are going to be load-shedding you for such an hour’ and they adjust their time-tables to fit into that, then suddenly, you do not stick to that, it becomes very challenging.”

She added that the erratic power supply would compel poultry farmers to eventually abandon chicken rearing.

“In terms of chicken rearing, really, I see a lot of people dropping out. As it is, there is a ban on the importation of chicken products and chicken themselves. But if we continue like this and we lose a lot of our farmers, we may have to go back to a situation where we say ‘the county is not producing enough, let’s start importing’, which will be a real shame and disadvantage to our farmers because even when they do come back on the market, once the market gets flooded with the imported stuff, it will be very difficult to reclaim our position. So, it is very unfortunate,” she explained.

“And these people have to send their children to school and they have to survive as well. So, if they are forced out of business then it simply means your poverty levels [as a country] go up because your children can’t get educated anymore and you can’t meet the requirements of education. Even in terms of household support itself, it becomes a real challenge to support the household and it also adds to unemployment because what you must realize is that, these same small-scale farmers employ three or four people, so all those become unemployed if this farmer is forced out of business.”

Machungwa appealed to Zesco to stick to its earlier load-shedding time-table as the power utility looks for lasting solutions to the country’s recurring power deficit.

“We realise that they can’t run away from this. This is something that is necessary, even for Zesco to be able to survive. But if they could at least just stick to what they’ve said they would do, it would really help. If they say they are going to load-shed you at such hours, let them stick to those hours because the other hours when you’ve scheduled something to help you achieve something. But now, when electricity is totally unpredictable, it becomes very difficult to manage the situation. So, we are simply pleading for them to stick to their schedule,” said Machungwa.