The Agri-Business Association and Agriculture Policy Reform in Zambia
Agro-dealers in Zambia are a critical part of the rural agricultural economic system. With over 100 members, the Agri-Business Association of Zambia (ABAZ) is a business association representing agro-dealers across all 10 provinces in Zambia. Initially formed in 2020, the ABAZ mandate focused on assisting members to address non-payment under the Farmer Input Supply Programme (FISP) e-voucher rollout. FISP is a Government of the Republic of Zambia (GRZ) program that provides smallholder farmers seed and fertilizers. The distribution of FISP inputs has largely been done through centralized public procurement and direct distribution.
Between 2017 and 2020, the GRZ piloted an e-voucher system that guaranteed payment to agro-dealers for supplying qualified and registered farmers in the last mile of distribution. The core ABAZ membership partnered with the Ministry of Agriculture, Musika, and the Zambia National Farmers Union on the rollout beginning in 2018. Delays receiving GRZ payments led agro-dealers to join forces and lobby for their payments, which resulted in the creation of ABAZ.
A thriving agro-input distribution sub-sector is pivotal in unlocking the potential of commercial agriculture, supporting food security, poverty reduction, and rural job creation. Although FISP implementation continues to fluctuate between direct distribution and e-voucher, ABAZ is now focusing its mission, vision and mandate beyond FISP to address the commercial needs of the inputs sector to enable broad growth of the agriculture sector in Zambia.
Public private dialogue in the agriculture sector in Zambia
The private sector, often represented by business associations or industry groups, plays a crucial role in policy reform processes. In Zambia, public-private dialogue (PPD) has had a role in policy reform for many years. Within its first year, President Hichilema’s United Party for National Development administration announced the creation of a national level PPD platform, the Public Private Dialogue Forum (PPDF). This move underscored the administration’s promise to foster private sector-led growth in Zambia. The platform’s technical working groups are chaired by the president of the relevant business association and the Permanent Secretary of the appropriate Ministry.
Launching a PPD platform does not lead immediately to effective dialogue, however. Business associations must be able to participate in these platforms both at the national and sub-national level. Further, these associations must be able to gather and analyze the needs of their members, develop policy positions based in evidence and effectively communicate those to government under these platforms through other means. ABAZ’s deep understanding of the implications of FISP implementation — and more broadly, agricultural policy in rural Zambia — is critical to reform.
ABAZ requests a seat at the table
Strong business associations effectively represent their members’ interests as a singular position and support decision-making by backing those positions up with industry knowledge and evidence. By incorporating industry concerns across value chains, associations through PPD will contribute to private sector-led growth in Zambia’s agricultural sector and food security.
Launched in 2022, the USAID Business Enabling Project (“the Project”) is a five-year project that aims to catalyze private sector investment in four sectors (agriculture, trade, energy and tourism). In 2023, the Project launched a partnership with ABAZ to strengthen its participation in the multistakeholder process for agriculture sector reform in Zambia that is currently underway.
Early in the partnership, ABAZ developed a policy advisory note addressed to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture to state its desire to represent agro-dealers’ interests in the nation and its commitment to support the government’s agricultural developmental aspirations. ABAZ outlined its interest in supporting the effective rollout of the e-voucher modality of FISP. ABAZ’s experience with e-voucher in prior years positions it well to provide valuable policy and programmatic recommendations to empower agro-dealers in Zambia and positively contribute to the realization of Zambia’s agricultural development goals.
ABAZ’s policy note continued to establish three clear requests:
- Grant ABAZ a seat at the table: The association requested formal inclusion in the PPDF agriculture technical working group, where priority agriculture reforms are tabled for decision-making by policymakers.
- Fully rollout the e-voucher system by 2025: E-voucher offers farmers more options and flexibility, supporting crop diversification and a more market-driven approach. It also reduces administrative burden on the government. ABAZ committed to supporting farmer education and empowerment during the rollout.
- Protect agro-dealers and encourage supply partnerships: ABAZ advocated that e-vouchers be redeemed through registered agro-dealers, and that the GRZ support direct partnership between agro-dealers and suppliers. The goal is to make input supply readily accessible to “last-mile” farmers, facilitate a conducive environment for agro-dealers to grow and support greater access to credit.
The letter was submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture in June 2023. Since then, ABAZ and the Project have launched initiatives to enhance ABAZ’s organizational and governance structure and incorporated ABAZ into interactive sessions on effective advocacy processes, enhancing membership services and communications. These initiatives are ongoing as ABAZ steps further into its role as the organization representing agro-dealers across the country.