The European Union will invest K1.3 billion in the agriculture sector under the 11th European Development Fund (EDF), EU ambassador to Zambia Alessandro Mariani has said.
And Mr Mariani has said the European Union has awarded the implementation of the Agriculture Service Centre Project at a total cost of K210 million.
Speaking when he officially launched the EDF, Mr Mariani said the project was an important step towards improving small scale farmers’ access to critical agricultural input and output markets, productive assets and services.
He said the project would establish four new agriculture service centres in Chibombo, Mpongwe, Lundazi and Mbala.
Mr Mariani said the project would also upgrade two existing centres in Choma and Mumbwa which were already established by an earlier project funded by the European Union.
“These centres will be leased to and operated by agribusiness and private service providers selected on a competitive basis. By alleviating part of the commercial risk an incentive is created for those private operators to run these one-stop shops,” he said.
Mr Mariani said the Zambia National Farmers’ Union would oversee activities during the four year implementation period.
He said the project was aimed at facilitating linkages and partnership with the private sector in order to improve farmers’ access to input and output market.
Mr Mariani said the private sector would be encouraged to enter new markets which previously were not willingness to try and penetrate if not assured of benefits by ZNFU’s in-depth knowledge of farmers’ needs at a lower risk.
“The agriculture service centres will benefit both large and small-scale farmers with the farmer ensuring its commercial viability,” he said.
Mr Mariani said over 90, 000 small scale farmers would be able to afford and access reliable supply of fairly priced inputs, to obtain competitive prices for their production, access to marketing
infrastructure and benefit from adequate technical service.
He said as a consequence farmers would increase their production, productivity, income and improve their livelihoods for their families.
And ZNFU deputy executive director Ellah Chembe said small scale farmers would only become market-oriented if they could access fairy priced finance for both inputs and their production assets, thus initiatives such as guarantee schemes, warehouse receipts and other marketing instruments would be vital in improving agricultural financing to small-scale farmers.
“Zambia can no longer wait in exploiting the export market opportunities in Congo DR, more so now with the recently signed Trade Bilateral Agreement. The ASC project supports for a feasibility study for the establishment of an agriculture export-trading platform at Kasumbalesa will therefore be a good precursor to formalizing most of Zambia’s agricultural exports in Congo DR,” she said.
Ms Chembe said the project would benefit over 90, 000 farmers, the majority of whom would be small-scale farmers.