The virtual collapse of Zambia’s coffee industry makes very, very sad reading.
From a high of 6,500 tonnes in 2004 production has slumped to virtually undetectable levels, according to the global harvests record. The records have still maintained Zambia as an Arabica coffee producing country but shows zero production.
This is a very serious indictment, which must awaken the Government to the urgent need for measures to resuscitate the industry.
It is gratifying that an international company OLAM International of Singapore, has decided to invest up to US$40million to create one of the country’s largest coffee estates. The company is taking over the operations of Northern Coffee Corporation from Zambia Development Agency (ZDA). As at last year they had created more than 1,200 jobs in Northern Province.
The US$40 million has been committed as capital expenditure and pre-operative expenditure to fully develop 2,000 hectares of the Arabica coffee plantation over a five- year period.
The estate is expected to yield approximately 4,500 tonnes of Arabica coffee beans by 2021 at steady-state and more with an out grower scheme project.
The company is almost starting afresh because the land has not been worked for many years.
The efforts of this one company and others like Mazabuka’s Lubrinkoff must be supported with a more sustainable Government effort that will resurrect the industry from the doldrums it has fallen into.
According to Zambia Coffee Growers Association general manager Joseph Taguma, coffee has tremendous potential in Zambia.
This is very evident from the prices that coffee fetches compared to maize.
In the 2004/2005 crop Zambia produced about 7000 tonnes of coffee worth an average$2400 per ton bringing in US$16.8 million.
This was not small money and the impact on job creation was tremendous. But alas this was not to continue, despite the fact that there is really no comparison between coffee and maize, because a tonne of maize fetches about $164 compared to a tonne of coffee which at current market prices fetches $2800.
For some reason successive governments since 2001 have paid scanty attention to coffee concentrating on maize which has produced the so-called phenomenal results of bumper harvest one after another while coffee production has died quietly.
Little wonder that the Zambia Coffee Growers Association has bemoaned the situation and rightly so, too, because Zambia has tremendous potential to produce huge quantities of quality coffee that will earn this country more money than many other crops combined.
According to industry insiders, the main reason why coffee production has reduced in Zambia is because it is difficult to get long- or short-term financing for the growers to enable them run their operations efficiently.
About 40 percent of coffee was grown in Northern Province near Kasama, 8 percent in the Copperbelt and North-Western Province, 5 percent in Central Province and the remainder around Mazabuka.
Commercial banks must now also play a role in helping farmers intending to enter the coffee industry. What is required is long- term financing and not short-term loans because tree crops like coffee take a long time to mature.