Oil seeds strategy to grow farming jobs and income

By Happy Mulolani

The Government of Zambia is facilitating the development of an Edible Oils Strategy to boost national oilseeds production and value addition. Zambia is currently relying on imported edible oils, which are killing the local industry, taking jobs and income from farmers.

The Agricultural Consultative Forum (ACF), with support from the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), is championing the development of an edible oils strategy for Zambia. ACF and FANRPAN are partners under the GCRF-AFRICAP programme promoting climate-smart agriculture and sustainable food systems.

ACF is leading the development of an edible oils strategy for Zambia.

ACF Executive Director, Masiye Nawiko, said his organisation is presently undertaking a soybean study whose findings will inform a soybean development strategy.  Nawiko said that ACF is working with stakeholders such as the Zambia Statistical Agency, Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute (IAPRI), the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) and the Ministry of Agriculture in conducting the nation-wide study expected to be completed in October 2020.

“There is tension between farmers and oil processors,” Nawiko said, noting that processors were importing edible oil from East Africa, thereby depriving the local market of the opportunity to create jobs and generate revenue for Zambia. ZNFU Executive Director, Ellah Chembe, said farmers growing oil seed crops will have good benefits once the industry is fully developed.

A 2013 National Consumption Requirement Study for Edible Oils in Zambia, commissioned by ZNFU, found that, despite the industry’s immense potential to produce edible oils, it was failing to compete with imported oils which were landed cheaply and often of questionable quality.

Total imports of edible oils dramatically increased from 21,309 tonnes in 2002 to 104,383 tonnes in 2012, four times the amount Zambia exports. The industry directly employs more than 2,000 people in the manufacturing sector and indirectly provides employment for farmers who supply oilseeds as raw material in the processing of edible oils. Multinational corporations produce the majority of edible oils in Zambia and small-scale businesses have a smaller stake in the industry.

Farmers, both small-scale and commercial, have been affected by the market volatility resulting from a glut in imported edible oils. This is a cause for concern for small-scale farmers who have limited technical expertise and rely on the informal market to sell their oilseeds. 

According to the 2019 Zambia Agriculture Status Report by Indaba for Agricultural Policy Research Institute, Zambia has adequate capacity to cater for all its edible oils demand, but imports 70 percent of the local consumption.

The importation of edible oils is both legal and illegal due to inconsistencies in enforcing stable mechanisms and related procedures. The lack of protection of the local industry prompted the government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, to impose restrictions on the importation of refined, packed and bottled edible oils in the country in 2015. ln line with the government strategy aimed at diversification and industrialization, the Zambia Bureau of Standards was mandated to subject all samples of edible oils in bulk for testing, with all operators giving false declarations being either fined or banned. Meantime, the Zambia Revenue Authority is tasked with ensuring that the importation of oil packaging which is less than 1,000 litres is not accepted and is classified as import refined edible oil.

Nawiko said that with support from the GCRF-AFRICAP Programme, ACF is undertaking an independent detailed analysis of the edible oils sector with regard to the national requirements, national production, installed processing capacity, consumption, imports and other market dynamics in order to inform policy.