In the recent past, we have seen instability in the mines, which are the main source of Foreign Exchange (FOREX) in Zambia. This instability has reduced the volume of copper exports, which have been further affected by low prices of copper on the global market. This has seen the kwacha depreciating by a big margin and almost hitting K19:00 to a United States dollar. Heavy over-dependency on copper has made our economy unresislient. This mono-economy should learn something from the current global crude oil price crush. Common sense systems thinking teach us not to put all our eggs in one basket. This simply means that a diverse system with multiple pathways and redundancies is more stable and less vulnerable to external shocks than a uniform system with little diversity. The Zambian economy is a uniform system with little diversity hence more vulnerable to external shocks such as a global pandemic of corona virus disease (COVID-19). In Zambia, apart from mining, tourism has been one of the key economic sectors outside agriculture. However, the global restriction on travel, the shuttering of nonessential local businesses and the implementation of universal social distancing policies have seen severe economic consequences at small, medium to large business enterprises. The real effect at national level is yet to be seen. In all this, the question is: “are there any sectors which can be game changers in this scenario?”
One of the low hanging fruits to diversifying the economy is the underdeveloped livestock subsector, which I have consistently and passionately talked about the past two years. We are only beginning to see the impact of coronavirus at individual economic level, however, without proactive interventions, the national and global impacts will be massive. The government has rightly identified this low hanging fruit in the Seventh National Development Plan and Vision 2030 but with little attention to actualising it. The 2020 budget speaks volumes to this fact. This sector if well harnessed can spur development and help in stabilising and sustaining a continuous economic growth for Zambia. Ladies and gentlemen, I can safely say that almost all businesses have been affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic, but one of those still relatively profitable despite the high cost of production due to dwindling macroeconomic indicators, is livestock farming. All of us still have to eat during the lockdown or self-quarantine and the major source of protein are livestock products such as meat, milk and eggs. Our bodies won’t fight COVID-19 if we are undernourished.
The severity and duration of the impending economic recession in Zambia as well as globally has not been forecasted. However, a few cautionary models available predict a relatively long haul to recovery.
Many countries are planning on how to come out of this economic depression caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. I hope and believe that Zambia has started developing a post-COVID recovery package and that the livestock subsector is NOT forgotten as it is important in restoring economic growth. I will hasten to mention that it will be serious hindsight to marginalise this sector at such a time in history. I haven’t seen the prominence of the Minister of Fisheries and Livestock in the control of COVID-19, it being a zoonotic disease or of animal origin, but I believe she is doing a lot behind the scene. Let us make good use of this low hanging fruit (Livestock subsector) by developing it to the level of significantly buffering the dwindling fortunes from copper mining. The copper mining scenario of declining prices is something many Zambians are accustomed to, and we have been there before, and we are likely to get back there even post-COVID recovery. Therefore the government should seriously start looking at viable and sustainable options out of this economic decline. Without looking outside the box, we shall be back to where we have been before. News Diggers has published several articles, which I have outlined on how this can be done.
Remember to stay COVID-free by eating healthy (with livestock products in the diet), staying home, maintaining physical distance of one metre, and masking up when going in public places. Above all, always maintain good hygiene practices such as regularly and effectively washing hands, sanitizing hands, keeping the environment clean, coughing and sneezing into the elbow. Remember that community participation and not lockdowns is key to fighting corona virus especially in developing countries.
The author is a Senior Lecturer of Livestock/Animal Health Economics at the University of Zambia, School of Veterinary Medicine. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Mobile: +260977717258