In recent months, the European Union has demonstrated its willingness to promote and support agricultural businesses in Africa, under European Commission’s Africa-EU Partnership. The Partnership, which stresses EU-African co-operation, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, aims to promote sustainability and biodiversity and have championed promoting public-private relationships across the continent, writes African Green Resources Chairman Zuneid Yousuf.
Though these commitments apply to the entire continent, I would like to focus on how increased African-EU co-operation has helped Zambia, my country. Last month, European Union Ambassador to Zambia Jacek Jankowski announced ENTERPRISE Zambia Challenge Fund (EZCF), an EU-backed initiative that will award grants to agribusiness operators in Zambia. The plan is worth an overall total of €25.9 million and has already launched its first call for proposals. In a time where Zambia, my country, is battling serious economic challenges this is a much-needed opportunity for the African agribusiness industry. More recently, just last week, the EU and Zambia agreed to two financing agreements that hope to boost investments in the country under the Economic Government Support Programme and the Zambia Energy Efficiency Sustainable Transformation Programme.
Europe’s collaboration and commitment to promoting African agriculture is not new. Our European partners have long been invested in promoting and helping African agribusiness realise their full potential and empower the sector. In June of this year, the African and European Unions launched a joint agri-food platform, which aims to link African and European private sectors to promote sustainable and meaningful investment.
The platform was launched off the back of the ‘Africa-Europe alliance for sustainable investment and jobs’ which was part of European Commission President’s Jean Claude Junker’s 2018 state of the Union address, where he called for a new “Africa-Europe alliance” and demonstrated that Africa is at the heart of the Union’s external relations.
The Zambian, and arguably the African agricultural environment, is dominated largely by small-to-medium sized farms that need both financial and institutional support to navigate these challenges. In addition, there is a lack of connectivity and interconnectedness within the sector, preventing farmers to connect with each other and realise their full potential through cooperation.
What makes EZCF unique among European agribusiness initiatives in Africa, however, is its specific focus on Zambia and empowering Zambian farmers. Over the past few years, the Zambian farming industry has grappled with droughts, lack of reliable infrastructure and unemployment. In fact, throughout 2019, it is estimated that a severe drought in Zambia led to 2.3 million people requiring emergency food assistance.
Therefore, a solely Zambia-focused initiative, backed by the European Union and aligned with promoting increased connectedness and investment in agriculture, not only reinforces Europe’s strong connection with Zambia, but will also bring some much-needed support and opportunity for the sector. This will undoubtedly allow our local farmers to unlock and leverage a wide range of financial resources.
More importantly, the EZCF is not operating alone. Alongside international initiatives, Zambia is already home to several impressive and important agribusiness companies that are working to empower and provide farmers with access to funding and capital markets.
One of these is African Green Resources (AGR) a world-class agribusiness company of which I am proud to be the chairman. At AGR, the focus is to promote value addition at every level of the farming value chain, as well as look for sustainable strategies for farmers to maximise their yields. For example, in March this year, AGR teamed up with several commercial farmers and multilateral agencies to develop a private sector financed irrigation scheme and dam and off grid solar supply which will support over 2,400 horticultural farmers, and expand grain production and new fruit plantations in the Mkushi farming block in Central Zambia. Over the next few years, our focus will be to continue promoting sustainability and the implementation of similar initiatives, and we are ready to invest alongside other agribusiness companies that seek to expand, modernise or diversify their operations.
Though it appears that the agricultural sector in Zambia may be facing challenges in the years to come, there are some very important milestones and reasons for optimism and opportunity. Increased cooperation with the European Union and European partners is an important way of capitalizing on opportunity and ensuring that we are all doing as much as we can to help small and medium sized farmers across the country.
Promoting increased interconnectedness within the private sector will help ensure that small farmers, the backbone of our national agricultural industry, are supported and empowered to collaborate, and share their resources with larger markets. I believe that both European and local agribusiness companies are heading in the right direction by looking into ways of promoting agribusiness, and I hope that together, we can all sustainably promote these goals on the regional and international stage.