IAPRI urges govt to improve market infrastructure to tackle cholera

Cholera cannot be expected to end if Zambia does not develop a clean horticultural value chain where fruits and vegetables can be stored in a conducive environment, says the Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute (IAPRI).

And Musika managing director Reuben Banda says the non-existence of a structured horticultural market was clearly evident during the cholera outbreak early this year.

Meanwhile, Works and Supply Minister Felix Mutati says agriculture’s contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is still uninspiring and a source of concern for government.

Speaking during the Zambian Fresh Produce Wholesale Market Investors’ meeting, jointly-organized by IAPRI and Musika in Lusaka yesterday, IAPRI executive director Chance Kabaghe suggested that cholera outbreaks cannot be expected to end if the country doesn’t develop a clean fruit and vegetable market.

“We have done a lot of work that is not only beneficial to this country, but the whole region. But our real main task is to make sure that, the Zambian agricultural stakeholders have proper data for them to make informed decisions. So, this country, in the last 10 years, has really been moving in the right direction because the policies that will advise the various stakeholders have the empirical evidence behind it. Ourselves, together working with Musika, we thought it was prudent that where agriculture has reached in this country, we needed to have a very modern fruit and vegetable market. Soweto, as we all know, is a disaster! The rains are just around the corner. This, Minister and stakeholders who are here, if it’s actualised quickly, we know it is going to be actualised, will be the beginning of the end of cholera in Lusaka. So, to us, it’s an extremely important meeting for investors. This is really a private sector initiative to move this sector forward. Where is agriculture in Zambia today?” Kabaghe wondered.

“We are self-sufficient as a country in a sustainable manner in maize production; the whole value chain of maize in this country. Maize is no longer an issue for Zambia. Even during the so-called El Niño, we still produce enough maize and export to the neighbouring region, including South Africa. Soya beans, we are now the past three, four years, we produce more than what we need for ourselves. Aquaculture is becoming very strong. We can boast today as a country that we are self-sufficient in the production of wheat. Really, if these three a country has in place, it doesn’t have to worry about staple food. The next part becomes now, the horticultural part. Really, our horticultural sector has been wish washing up and down. As we are talking, farmers who have been involved in the tomato production this period, they are crying! And they are saying that, ‘we will never grow tomatoes again!’ When at the beginning of this season, a box of tomato was hitting K400, right now it is K5. Some are just throwing it; taking it to waste.”

He said the time to invest in the horticulture sector was now.

“Again, I’m trying to say, we have the agro-economic zone in this country that can grow literally, apart from those very extreme fruits, such as apples, we can grow literally most of the vegetables and fruits we are talking about. So, as a country, we are ripe, we are ready to move in the horticultural sector. And you cannot move in the horticultural sector, Minister, without addressing issues of marketing. The value of chain in marketing. We thought that the time was now. Time was now to invest in the value chain, especially the marketing component, because once the marketing component is set right, production becomes much easier, people start investing in those areas. Like I said, today, when you say, ‘I’m growing tomatoes, people start asking, what’s wrong with you?’ Why are you growing tomatoes? So, this meeting is really called upon to address this critical position.”

And Banda said the non-existence of a structured horticultural market was clearly evident during the cholera outbreak early in the year, which had a devastating impact on fresh produce marketing systems causing serious food safety and health concerns, and huge losses in terms of revenue.

He also noted that a good fruit and vegetable market, coupled with a clean value chain, would address the non-transparent and uncompetitive marketing practices that tend to benefit unregulated brokers.

“Musika and IAPRI are committed to this process. That is why we joined hands and commissioned a feasibility study early this year to establish the major challenges hampering the growth of the sector and seek solutions that will help to transform it into one that is commercially viable. The repercussions of the non-existence of a structured horticultural market was clearly evident during the cholera outbreak early in the year, which had a devastating impact on our fragile fresh produce marketing systems causing serious food safety and health concerns and huge losses in terms of revenue. As a non-profit company that works to stimulate and support private sector investment in the smallholder market, Musika’s interest in the development of structured fresh fruit and vegetable markets is to create more opportunities for smallholder producers who are greatly disadvantaged by the non-transparent and uncompetitive marketing practices that tend to benefit unregulated brokers,” Banda said.

Meanwhile, Mutati, who was standing-in for Finance Minister, Margaret Mwanakatwe, said agriculture’s contribution to GDP is still uninspiring and a source of concern for government.

“Government has a passion for agriculture, and that passion, today, is being anchored on the transformation of the agricultural sector. That, the dividends that can be realised from the agricultural sector are huge if we translate the issues of diversification of the economy into a practical output. Hearing from Musika has taught one lesson that, as a nation, we have engaged in production conversations, which have been anchored on ambition, but less so whether those conversations have been anchored on evidence research and data. Today, we are creating order on what must be done in the agriculture space, in particular, the horticultural space. Agriculture contribution to GDP has remained uninspiring and a source of concern. And we say agriculture is the main stay. And from a government perspective, our role still remains that we will not only provide supportive infrastructure, but will also anchored trade facilitation. We believe that GDP and growing the economy,” said Mutati.

         

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