ZAMPALM TRANSFORMS CHIEF KOPA’S AREA
Zambeef division aims to contribute to the development of the area
LUSAKA, ZAMBIA – Livelihoods for the Bisa people of Mpika have been transformed in the last six years thanks to the impact of the fast-growing Zampalm palm oil plantation.
Situated in the sparsely populated area of Chief Kopa’s chiefdom in Mpika, Zampalm has been a catalyst for economic growth and development in the area that looks set to prove a role model for sustainable agribusiness projects across the Southern Arica region.
The community, which traditionally engages in cassava farming, fishing and hunting for sustenance, was faced with numerous challenges due to the remoteness of the area from markets and lack of transportation before Zampalm began operations in 2009.
The chiefdom was cut off from the rest of Zambia due to poor road networks. This posed a major challenge for trade as inaccessible roads discouraged traders from coming to the area. Residents relied on farming, fishing, hunting and gathering of caterpillars for survival. The caterpillars are a great source of protein and were sold to secure income for the households.
“Little trade and financial resources existed in the area owing to the transport factor with only six grocery stores available in 2008. The roads were inaccessible and not many were willing to come here, now the area boasts 51 or more of such stores,” explained Zampalm plantation manager Trusted Mwiinga.
A major employer in the area, Zampalm has over 400 permanent and seasonal workers with 80 per cent coming from the Chiefdom and several households benefit directly and indirectly. It employs 30 percent women at is plantation to work in the nursery on lighter jobs and the number is expected to increase as the oil processing factory starts fully functioning and harvesting begins in August.
Communication and infrastructure have also greatly improved since Zampalm’s arrival, with mobile operators and ZESCO moving into the area to offer services to the people in Mpika as a result of increased activity.
“We expect to see a lot more development as the plantation and milling plantation operations gain momentum,” said Mr Mwiinga.
More co-operatives have come up in the farming community with a focus on more diverse crops such as maize that does not employ the ‘slash and burn ‘chitemene system. With the weekly transport that Zampalm provides to Mpika Boma, farmers and traders are able to transport more of their goods between the two locations.
“There was no communication network, proper accommodation, roads or power in the area when we arrived,” explained Zampalm plantation manager Trusted Mwiinga.
Since Zampalm was launched in 2009, there have been significant changes, with new shops springing up, a growing economy and more stable livelihoods for the local community. Residents have also been able to afford to send their children to school and seen their diet and health improve.
“With the compensation received under the relocation programme as well as livelihood provided through employment, families can now educate their children and improve their houses, with thatched roofs replaced with iron sheets; some children are now going to high school; people can buy new clothes; and health has improved,” said Mr Mwiinga.
Residents were also able to benefit from skills training in various areas surrounding the operations of the plantation with Zampalm taking the time to train the general work force with the skills needed to operate machines as well as field techniques such as wedding, spraying, chipping and construction. Most of who had never worked before, making the training an essential undertaking for a safe working environment.
“Absenteeism was a challenge at first with workers knocking off as and when they wanted to look for edible caterpillars when they were in season so they could sell them for an income. But with time they understood that work at hand and adjusted their lifestyle as such,” said the plant manager.
Health remains a major concern; the area has two government health posts that are 15 and 20 km away from the area. Zampalm has however stepped in to provide transport for patients to travel to the clinic including an ambulance to Kopa clinic and Mpika District Hospital.
Zampalm has various projects lined up to uplift the local community with an outgrower scheme using Zampalm seedlings and fish farming in the works.
The Zampalm project was launched in 2009 and currently has some 370,900 palms planted over an area of 2,612 hectares in the main plantation, with another 39,000 seedlings in the main and pre-nursery. Zampalm owns 20,238 hectares of titled land, and the intention is to plant a total of 4,812 hectares in 2017 and similar areas in subsequent years as the business grows.
A 2-tonnes-per-hour crushing mill was built this year, with plans for a second 2-tonne plant in 2017 and a further 10-tonne plant in the following year, taking crude palm oil production up to 17,000 tonnes a year.
The total investment cost is estimated US$41.5 million, of which Zambeef has spent US$20 million so far. At current prices the average production of crude oil of 3 to 3.5 tonnes per hectare could generate more than US$170 million in revenue over the next decade.
The market for edible oils in Zambia, of which palm oil is one component, is estimated at 120,000 tonnes per year, and this is expected to continuing growing as the country develops further.
More than half of Zambia’s edible oil consumption is imported from the Far East, East Africa and South Africa.
Palm oil is the world’s most used vegetable oil and has many different uses in addition to cooking oil. Palm oil and its derivatives are found in foods such as margarines and ice cream, used as a thickener, preservative and antioxidant; as well as in personal care products such as shampoo, and cosmetics; industrial products such as lubricants paints and inks; and as a renewable fuel.
Once fully operational the plantation will contribute to substitute 70,000 tonnes of imports of cooking oil into Zambia, saving the country around US$70 million (K511 million) of foreign exchange outflows every year.
While Zambia is not a traditional growing region for palm oil, lower yields are expected to be outweighed by the competitive advantage of being closer to consumers in the region given that the cost of importing edible oil from the Far East can account for around a third of its retail price.