I’m surprised at the feeling of coming home. I didn’t realize I missed it – the sight of big wide fields spreading over gentle hills and valleys. We’ve spent the last two months working with small scale farmers here in Zambia, who rarely farm more than a hectare. The commercial farmers in Mukushi operate on a thousand hectares or more each.
Driving with Rassie du Toit in his Toyota 4WD pickup, we almost forget we’re in Zambia. Rassie takes us down to the Agri-Options cooperative grain storage facility of which he is a founding member. Rows and rows of grain bags lie to the right of the road – filled with soya beans, maize and wheat. Some of them still hold wheat from the 2008 crop – Cargill bought it but it hasn’t moved yet.
To the left, eight shiny Westeel bins with a total holding capacity of 27,000 tonnes have just been erected. Workers are scrambling to get the new unloading facility operating before the new maize and soybean harvest, which is already underway. While we watch, the first loads of soybeans arrive. Rassie is happy – he’s been pestering them for the last two weeks.
The cooperative’s 17 members produce a total of over 65,000 tonnes of produce annually – maize (corn), soybeans and wheat. Almost all of that is stored at Agri-Options. Together they produce up to 20% of Zambia’s total wheat production.
The soybeans are all pressed into oil on site. At the moment the press is quiet. Bags of soy cake are piled up – until they can sell it they can’t press anymore. The market seems saturated at the moment.
In a country as small as Zambia – 11 million people and most of them with little purchasing power – the market is quickly saturated. 12 years ago, when Rassie first came to Zambia from South Africa, Zambia wasn’t producing enough maize, its staple food, to feed the country. Now it’s overproducing. Exporting south isn’t an option – South Africa and Zimbabwe produce cheaper than Zambia. One major reason is distance to inputs. That leaves the Congo to the north. At the moment they are shipping 90 tonnes of maize a day into the Congo, which helps.
Rassie maintains that it is only by value adding that commercial farmers in Zambia can survive. The next step for them is to bottle the soya oil themselves – ready for the super market shelf. A mill is also in the planning stages.
The challenges of commercial farming in Zambia sound huge but Rassie is positive. It’s a great place to live, a great place to raise children, he says. The buildings in progress on his farm are evidence enough that he believes in a strong future.