Zambian Farming Alliance rejects South African commercial farmers

South African commercial farmers - Photo Credit Emmanuel Mwamba
South African commercial farmers - Photo Credit Emmanuel Mwamba

SA farmers visit Zambia – whose land and whose benefit’s?
The Zambia Alliance for Agroecology and Biodiversity Conservation (ZAABC), a network of 20 civil society organisations in Zambia championing small-scale farmer driven agro-ecological farming systems and pro-poor sustainable development, oppose the invitation and further presence, of the South African (SA) commercial farmer group in Zambia. We object to their audience with our President and the manner in which Zambia’s land and agricultural sector is being portrayed as up for export to the highest foreign bidder.
We ask our President as he meets with the group this week – what part of Zambia’s land is being made available, with whose agreement, and on what terms?

The national strategy of consolidating smaller areas of land into large scale commercial units and farm blocks with out-growers, increases local conflict around land access and ownership. Land availability is a significant issue for small scale farmers in Zambia. There has been much public debate regarding the unjust allocation of customary land by government and traditional leaders for private investments.
The system of agriculture that the SA farmers wish to invest in, and correspondingly profit from, is based on an industrial model of farming, underpinned by neoliberal market principles. It involves large scale mono-cropping, high mechanisation, few skilled jobs and intensive natural resource use. It requires high capital inputs, bank loans and high risks. The model is fundamentally designed to favour corporate commercial profits.

Global experiences clearly show how this system paves the way for increased corporate concentration and control of the food system and its profits – for a minority wealthy elite. Local economies are undermined and value extracted at the expense of local communities, household nutrition and the natural environment. Family farmers with local knowledge, producing a diverse range of produce and supporting household food security, are squeezed out of the system. Previous independent land owners must then instead seek low paid jobs as landless labourers on privatised farms or migrate to Zambia’s overpopulated and un-serviced urban outskirts.

It is deeply concerning that the new National Agriculture Policy promotes such an industrial ‘private sector led’ system of agriculture. This policy follows what is being pushed by private sector and development aid agencies such as the Alliance for the Green Revolution of Africa (AGRA) and the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (which is funded by industry itself). Rural women and children are the worst affected by the externalities of the ‘so called’ green revolution. The technological package promotes chemical fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides, together with commercial hybrid (and GMO) seeds whilst undermining or criminalising local traditional seed systems through regional trade laws. It creates incentives for mechanization and financing. The high risk package degrades soil fertility, agro-biodiversity and traps farmers in a cycle of debt. It supports economies of scale that favour large scale agriculture and gradually pushes small scale farming as is known in Zambia, out of the agriculture sector completely.

Large scale, chemical and capital intensive corporate agriculture does nothing to address the root causes of hunger and malnutrition and instead only deepens poverty and inequality in the long run.
Industrial agricultural systems also go completely against Zambia’s internationally bound commitments to climate change and promise to the nation for pro-poor development. The industrial based global food system is the second biggest contributor to climate change. Agro-chemical inputs made from fossil fuels, high mechanisation and large scale land conversion of forests, grasslands and tilling of soil releases carbon into the atmosphere, heats the planet and destroys biodiversity – the foundation of resilience. The results can already be seen on South African farms, and in Zambia’s once bread basket Mkushi, which today has great pivots lying unplanted and bare as boreholes have dried up. Rural communities are once again the bearers of the negative externalities of neoliberal economic systems driving climate change.

Agriculture investment such as that which the SA group is discussing with Zambia’s leadership, is packaged as ‘promoting food security’ – this is a disguise and indeed a contradiction of what occurs in reality. Large scale, agro-chemical intensive farming of cash crops such as sugar, soy, maize, and wheat does not support local food security. It is well researched that a network of small scale biologically diverse farms produce more total land and nutrition yield than large scale monocrop agriculture. This also promotes economic and social justice.
The myth of promoting food security is used to capture new markets and profit through mass produced chemical and nutritionally limited food. Why would Zambia want to give up its farmers’ and consumers’ independence and our diverse, nutritionally wholesome and culturally valued food system for one that makes us reliant on foreign support, degrades our nutrition, and creates profits for multinational corporate agribusinesses?

Dr Theo de Jager is the current Chairman of Agri All Africa and part of the SA team visiting Zambia. De Jagar was also part of the 2010 group involved in the Congo farm land agreement– where 200 000 hectares, with a further 10 million hectares, was in the discussion for lease. The Congo deal has come under considerable criticism globally.

The Congolese land was also said to be “under-utilised” by Agri SA. The Congolese government further stated that no Congolese subsistence farmers occupy the land. (See more at: A question that was asked regarding the Congolese case was: “How will local farmers be affected by the decision to “export ownership” of fertile land to foreign private hands?”

The ZAABC now asks the same question in Zambia, as the same group of SA farmers and agribusiness wish to ‘invest’ in our country, and our land is portrayed as ‘under-utilised’. What terms are being made and on whose agreements? Any rural dweller will attest that NO LAND IS UNDER-UTILISED and NO LAND HAS NO OWNER. If land in Zambia is not under state control it is under customary control and every piece of land in Zambia under customary control has owners: Zambian people.

According to the FAO, “Many land deals seem to have been settled between the investor and the government in host countries with little concern for whether benefits would trickle down to the local population, insufficient documentation of smallholders’ rights prevented them from making any claims … ‘Surplus’ land does not mean that it is unused or unoccupied” (FAO, 2010). The global Farm Land Grab Watchdog states that “Unfortunately for farmers in Africa, leaders, and provincial and national governments have been all too willing to sell land already inhabited by citizens lacking land titles — often the product of communal customs — with the best land and water resources going free of charge to multinationals, often via secretive development agreements”.
“In the worst cases, it’s fair to say we are looking at neo-colonialism,” said David Hallam of the FAO’s trade and market division.

We wish to implore on our government to once again demonstrate leadership by protecting its small-scale Zambian farmers who, unlike commercial farmers have faithfully produced food to feed our country for generations. The Zambian small-scale farmers have demonstrated that with right policies they can produce enough to feed Zambia and across borders.

Signed by the Zambia Alliance for Agroecology and Biodiversity Conservation (ZAABC)
Chairperson Mr Emmanuel Mutamba
ZAABC membership:
Caritas Zambia
Chalimbana River Headwaters Conservation – Trust (CRHC-Trust)
Chongwe District Women Development Alliance (CDWDA)
Community Technology Development Trust (CTDT)
Council of Churches Zambia (CCZ)
East and Southern Africa Small-scale Farmers Forum (ESAFF)
Green Living Movement (GLM)
Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR)
Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (KATC)
Organic Producers and Processors Alliance of Zambia (OPPAZ)
PELUM Zambia
Regional Schools and Colleges Permaculture Programme (ReSCOPE)
Zambia Climate Change Network (ZCCN)
Zambia Community Based Natural Resources Management Forum (CBNRM Forum)
Zambia Land Alliance (ZLA)
Zambia Relief and Development Foundation (ZRDF)
Zambia Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA)


South African commercial farmers – Photo Credit Emmanuel Mwamba