THE MUSIKA INTERVIEW: “Across all the major agricultural sectors, Musika is placing an emphasis on irrigated crops and fresh produce in 2019”

Musika has been a key partner of Agritech Expo from the start – how has this event contributed to the development of agriculture in Zambia in your view?
Coming into its sixth year now, Agritech Expo has become a landmark ‘institution’ in Zambian agriculture, and the ways it has influenced agriculture in this country are many. Firstly, there is no other event that allows for such an exposure to local, regional and international agricultural innovations by such a range of farmers and industry players, and the value of that exposure, the cross pollination of ideas and the business links and networking that come from such an event cannot be under-estimated.

Then there are more obvious benefits that come from the actual sales that take place during and after the show, and the subsequent introduction of new technologies onto Zambian smallholder and commercial farms. Undoubtedly there have been jumps in productivity at individual farm, and even national, level as a result.

Also, the fact that the event attracts a high level of publicity, not least because of the attendance of high profile public figures, has a considerable, if intangible, benefit. The fact that it throws a positive spotlight onto Zambia’s ‘progressive agriculture’ helps to keep the industry centre-stage in Zambia’s national development agenda and national discourse.

What are the main challenges that the sector is facing currently in your view?
Agriculture faced a very tough year in 2018. A poor rainy season in 2017/18 led to a drop in agricultural output across the board, with the maize harvest reducing by a third and most other crops suffering a reduced production from levels seen in the previous year. While improved commodity prices reflected the reduced supply, the maize sector – which dominates so much of Zambian agriculture – was and continues to be further hampered by a challenging policy environment involving export restrictions and subsidised maize entering the local market. The problem with such policies is that they stifle private investment in the grain trade, eliminate any incentive to store commodity, scare away financiers and significantly reduce liquidity in the market. As a result, a number of major grain trading houses are either packing up or scaling down their Zambian operations, taking with them opportunities for market access, liquidity, expertise and their role as ‘engines’ of the agricultural economy. None of this is good news for Zambian agriculture.

While it might start to sound like a stuck record, it is critical going forward that Government creates a stable and predictable agricultural policy environment that encourages and incentivises the sort of long-term investments in production, storage, domestic and international trade and value addition to allow agriculture to thrive in Zambia.

On the livestock front, disease is another challenge that does not go away. As we know, there was no livestock at the 2018 edition of Agritech Expo because of movement restrictions caused by an outbreak in foot and mouth disease, and the same disease is now wreaking havoc on livestock herds, the livestock market and farmer confidence in Southern Province.

Many parts of the country appears to have been hit by drought again in the 2018/19 season, which necessarily takes its greatest toll on the thirstier crops of which maize is the obvious example. It is essential that Zambia edges towards more diversified agricultural economy where livestock, horticulture, tree crops and other, less rain dependent production systems played a greater role in agriculture and will help cushion some of the wild swings in production and price that haunt Zambia, while at the same time making farmers more resilient to an ever-changing climate.

Which sectors in the agri sector are most promising in your view?
Across all the major agricultural sectors, Musika is placing an emphasis on irrigated crops and fresh produce in 2019. Of all the sectors and especially in relation to the smallholder market, irrigation has the greatest opportunity to transform the economies of farming businesses, allowing the utilisation of land and labour across the year and allowing the production of high value crops and the creation of viable farming businesses from small land areas. Gross margins for various irrigated crops in the smallholder market can be 200 times those of maize and there are obvious spin off benefits for household nutrition and reduced reliance on the vagaries of Zambia’s single rainy season. Musika is making investments at both the production end, through testing the development of various irrigation models suitable for the smallholder market, and also at the market end, exploring opportunities to create a more structured, transparent and secure market environment for Zambia’s fresh produce. Musika strongly feels there is a huge opportunity for growth in the irrigated crop sector that can benefit large numbers of farmers and the agricultural economy in general.

Aquaculture is another sector that is growing in influence in Zambia. While the rapid expansion in fish production has been largely driven by commercial farming businesses, there is a strong opportunity for smallholder participation in this high value enterprise and is another sector that Musika is starting to invest in.

With the perennial and multiple challenges facing Zambia’s ‘traditional’ farming sectors, it is becoming increasingly important for farmers large and small, and other market players such as traders and processors, to explore opportunities for new and innovative crops and livestock ‘niches’ for both domestic and international markets that can lay the foundation for a more diversified agricultural economy.

While the cassava sector is not exactly new or innovative, it is worth mentioning in the context of diversification in that it highlights the response that the smallholder market can give to a new and ‘assured’ formal market opportunity. Musika has supported a number of market players to develop this market and provide market access and extension – and now digital financial opportunities – to traditionally subsistence-level cassava farmers and the transformation in terms of increases in production and productivity and investment has been nothing short of dramatic as the same farmers transition to mini-commercial farmers in their own right.

What have you got planned for this year?
As its ‘Green Zone’ exhibition at Agritech Expo 2018 and its enhanced version at the 2019 Expo demonstrates, Musika will continue to support the growth of environmentally sustainable farming practices in 2019, assisting companies in the agricultural and renewable energy secotrs to drive technologies and innovations that can increase farm incomes, reduce climate risk and have a positive effect on the local, and even global environments. 

Other than its increased investments in the irrigated crop and fresh produce sectors and its explorations of opportunities in the smallholder fish farming market, Musika is also focusing its efforts on the small livestock sector, including village poultry, as these sectors are currently informal and provide little opportunity for investment by smallholders in productivity enhancing technologies and genetics. Yet the sector has the potential to play a valuable role in the smallholder farming system and a growth in the market would have undoubted benefits for the women farmers that dominate the sector.

Perhaps the most exciting – and challenging – change to Musika’s portfolio in 2019 is the addition of a second key goal. Until now, Musika has been focused on facilitating changes to the agricultural market that provide the opportunity for smallholder farmers to increase their incomes. However, starting in 2019, Musika is now applying its same approach to exploring how the private agricultural market - and the food processing sector - can enhance the opportunities for smallholder farmers and rural communities to not just have more money in their pockets but also to have more diverse, nutritious foods on their plates.

There is a marked increase in country pavilions at Agritech Expo this year - what do you think that is indicative of?
This is a very good indication of Agritech’s growing regional and international reputation as an event of excellence in the sector. What started as a national exhibition has, over the course of five years, become an internationally recognised focal point for agricultural technology and Zambia, and the Zambian agricultural community, should be proud to be the host of such an event.

What is your vision for this country’s farming community?
It is an over-worn cliché to say that Zambia will one day become the ‘bread basket’ of the region, and there are indeed multiple challenges that stand in the way of attaining this goal. However, Zambia’s farmers are resilient and hardworking and there is no doubt that with a healthy dose of innovation (and a little luck with the weather), the future of Zambia’s farmers, both small and large, as suppliers of a wide range of food products to the country and the region and as drivers of Zambian national economic growth is very positive.

Caption: Musika supports the development of a dynamic ‘last mile’ distribution network for seed, fertiliser, agrochemicals and farm equipment that reaches into the smallholder communities, accompanied with the technical information necessary to encourage adoption of productivity enhancing technologies to maximise the benefit of their usage. Utilising a variety of different channels, major input companies have scaled up the development of distribution networks beyond Musika’s initial support, benefitting over 120,000 smallholders in Zambia.

Caption: Musika facilitates the development of a vibrant services market in which smallholders have access to a wide range of agricultural machinery and services aimed at promoting efficiencies in land preparation, planting, crop protection, post-harvest activities and storage. By partnering with key financial institutions, Musika has assisted in lowering the risk of lending and increased access to agricultural machinery by smallholder farmers offering contracting services to others within their communities.

Musika Agritech Expo ZambiaCaption: Musika’s intervention in the livestock sector has stimulated private sector investment in the smallholder veterinary market across the major livestock producing areas of Southern, Central, Eastern, and Western Provinces. With Musika’s support, major companies have extended the distribution of livestock drugs, veterinary services, genetics and nutrition products to commercially difficult areas through intermediaries, while others have developed infrastructure including livestock service centres and spray races backed by technical knowledge provision and training services for smallholder farmers.

Caption: Musika is facilitating the development of a robust private sector veterinary product distribution and service provision market in which smallholders are able to access affordable and appropriate products and services from commercial vet companies and their intermediaries, backed by technical knowledge provision and training services. Musika has also introduced these companies to other clients in the dairy sector, as their services are vital to improve productivity of smallholder milk producers by meeting the health, hygiene, nutrition and genetics demands of the dairy sector.

Caption: One of Musika’s core strategies is supporting commodity traders, buyers and processors to establish long term commercial relationships with smallholders that involve not just commodity marketing opportunities but a bundled offering of assured off-take, access to inputs and new technologies and the provision of extension services. Musika’s investment in fresh produce procurement such as fruits and vegetables, and processing also provides strong marketing opportunities for rural women.