Consumers in Zambia are embracing fresh vegetables and foods that are locally produced and sourced in increasing numbers. A recent government commission reported that the purchase of locally grown vegetables is increasing by a rate of 10% to 15% annually.
However, the majority of the farmers who grow all that good food are not enjoying the benefits of their labour. The reason involves complex distribution and logistic factors that leave producers at the short end of the stick.
In short, an array of middlemen and end-retailer receive the bulk of profits engendered in farm-generated profits.
But now a prominent Zambian businessman has examined the dynamics of food production and distribution, and he believes he has a solution. Clever Mpoha, founder and CEO of the SAVENDA Group, said he can build a better system that will uplift farmers while also promoting the positive trend toward the purchase of farm-to-table products.
Mpoha recently spotted an opportunity in the food distribution infrastructure that is close to home. He located an existing farm property just outside of the Zambian capital of Lusaka where SAVENDA is headquartered.
The Palabana Farm was a property originally designated for a pilot program to offer Ag extension services and farmer training for small-scale farmers. The idea behind the program was to teach farmers to grow fresh foods on a small scale and sell their products directly to consumers in nearby farmer’s markets.
Mpoha purchased Palabna Farm and directed his managing director of SAVENDA Capital, Sean Moolenschot, to create a farmer’s market venue at a strategic Lusaka location to work in tandem with the farm. Moolenschot is well qualified to do so. He is the former director of ADAS Africa Group, a major agribusiness venture development operator.
The new market is branded as ZAMBIAFresh. It’s an operation that leans heavily on technology. Specifically, it leverages an online marketing trading system that gives small farmers a secure online trade platform to facilitate the process of selling what they grow. It also helps them get paid at a fair trade scale for what they produce.
A significant advantage of ZAMBIAFresh is that it allows for “real price discovery.” Clever Mpoha and Moolenschot said the Palabna Farm working in synchronization with ZAMBIAFresh will provide “a tangible demonstration of a new kind of working market.”
Furthermore, the launch of a digital platform for locally produced foods will serve as a role model for all African nations. It will demonstrate a better way for food to be produced, sold and consumed within local communities.
The ZAMBIAFresh effort is assisted by a strategic partner, Freshmark Systems. The latter provides a powerful commodities trading software that has been widely adopted in South Africa.
“I think we can save the nation by contributing to food security while helping grow SAVENDA by moving further into the agribusiness sector,” Mpoha said.
Palabna Farms and ZAMBIAFresh is not Clever Mpoha’s first foray into the food sector. Not long ago he acquired land in Chibombo with the goal of producing food to “reduce hunger in the nation.” He called the Chibombo venture “something I am passionate about.” He added:
“Growing up in a village where I herded goats and cows as a boy, I gained a keen understanding of the challenges farmers face in bringing their products to market.”
Dr. Akinwunmi A. Adesina is President of the African Development Bank. In a recent interview, he said that, in Africa, “the next generation of millionaires will be farmers.”
Mpoho believes Dr. Adesina is right. But that’s not the major driver for his decision to diversity into food production. The fact is, Zambia is facing a serious food crisis driven by persistent droughts. Zambia has a population of more than 18 million. Global Citizens reports that the food security situation is expected to deteriorate through the spring and summer of 2021.
The Oakland Institute reports that nearly 2.3 million Zambians are at risk of severe food insecurity caused by lack of rainfall. During the past two years, the southern and western portions of the country have turned in their lowest rainfall levels since 1981.
Certainly, the amount of rains that grace Zambian farms is beyond the control of mere mortal businessmen. However, Clever Mpoha said that what can be improved is a host of factors that will make the production and distribution of food more efficient. Every innovative supply management and logistics effort implemented helps to mitigate what the whims of Mother Nature hands out.
Mpoha believes more local production on small farms – and less dependence on importing food from foreign sources – is a key to bringing about universal food stability for Zambia. More free trade between nations is another vital requirement, he said.
The African Development Bank recently issued a report bluntly stating that “Africa has no excuse for spending $35 billion USD annually for food imports.” The report further suggests that rapid adoption of new technologies will be the key to spurring production, improving distribution — and even improving the affordability of food.
Tech-enabled projects like SAVENDA Group’s FRESHMarket are precisely the kind of project suggested at a recent African Development Bank conference attended by 1,600 agriculture and applied economists from around the world.
Clever Mpoha said Zambia can solve its food problems and achieve food security with innovation, programs to uplift local farmers and small-scale farming. The key is to provide them with markets that pay well while encouraging more production and job creation as a result.