Leading NZ farmers join global master class
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Leading Kiwi farmers join global master class on fact-finding mission to Zambia

Six New Zealanders were among a select group of 20 leading farmers from around the world to recently attend a Rabobank Global Farmers Master Class in Zambia.

The week-long education program – which comprised alumni of previous Rabobank Global Master Class events held around the world – brought together farmers from nine key food and agriculture-producing countries to observe the potential of the Zambian agricultural sector and to discuss the challenges facing local producers. The program saw participants visit a range of agricultural operations in Zambia’s Lusaka and Mkushi regions and hear from a number of key Zambian agriculture industry participants.

Held last month, the program was attended by producers from countries including the United States, Ireland, Brazil, Kenya, Mozambique, Chile, Netherlands, and Australia.

The six participants selected to attend from New Zealand were Dan O’Leary and Jane Nugent-O’Leary (dairy) from the Manawatu, Grant and Ele Ludemann (dairy, beef and sheep) from Oamaru, Richard Laugesen (grapes, sheep and beef) from Blenheim and Nelson Hancox (sheep and beef) from West Otago.

The Zambian program was the third Rabobank Global Farmers Master Class event, with previous programs having taken place in the Netherlands in 2012 and Australia in 2014. The Global Farmers Master Classes are educational initiatives designed to gather together some of the world’s best, most professional farmers to address global food security and the accompanying challenges and opportunities.

Mrs Nugent-O’Leary said the Zambian trip provided a unique chance to learn about farming practices in Africa, as well as to catch up with other former Global Farmers Master Class attendees.

“Africa’s population is expected to grow from one billion people to over two billion in the next 30 years and the continent is already importing 20 per cent of its food. Zambia has vast areas of arable land and ample water for irrigation, with the major rivers of Africa flowing through it, and there is huge potential to increase food production,” she said.

“We had the opportunity to visit and talk with a fascinating range of farmers and then to discuss it amongst ourselves from an international perspective.”

Mrs Nugent-O’Leary said farming in Zambia is undertaken by two main groups – the small land holders on traditional tribal lands, and the big corporate-style farms on government owned lease land.

“The small land holders have 94 per cent of Zambian farm land. Each family will generally farm between two and five hectares by hand and hoe. Women play the prominent role on these farms. They mostly grow maize and a few vegetables. Some also have chickens, goats or cattle. Often they are living in mud huts on their land with some still using bullock and carts for transportation. Sale of their produce appeared to be through makeshift roadside stalls and the balance was used for their own consumption.”

The big irrigated farming operations also focused on maize growing and higher value wheat crops, Mrs Nugent-O’Leary said.

“We visited an impressive farm with 1500 hectares under irrigation. These larger operations use sophisticated machinery, but also employ hundreds of locals to hand-pick, shell and help grade seed maize. With the small holders, the yield is often only up to two tonne per hectare. For the big irrigated farms this jumps to in excess of 10 tonne per hectare.”

Mrs Nugent-O’Leary said the attitude of the Zambian farmers and industry stakeholders was in the main positive and there was a willingness from those involved in the industry to “give it a go”.

“There is undoubtedly huge potential for Zambian agriculture, however, there are also a number of complex issues for local farmers to contend with,” she said.

Zambia has been hard hit by the drop in commodity prices with copper exports its main earner. This has devalued its currency resulting in 23 per cent inflation and local currency interest rates of up to 30 per cent.

“So much of what we take for granted here in New Zealand either doesn’t exist or is different to what we would expect. Zambian operations have to deal with challenges around access to markets, reliable power supplies, transport, health care, and education as well as difficulties in sourcing farm inputs such as fertiliser, chemicals and machinery parts,” she said.

Mrs Nugent-O’Leary said government policies also impacted on local farmers.

“It costs roughly NZD 3000 a hectare to buy the lease on good irrigated land. However, given many of the big farmers we met had had experience with their lands being nationalised in other African countries, there was uncertainty around their ability to farm the land long term,” she said.

“We were also told that the government has placed limits on agricultural export volumes to ensure the population is well fed before next month’s elections. This was artificially depressing maize prices below the cost of production.”

Theft of farm machinery and produce were further obstacles to overcome.

“Success doesn’t necessarily favour the individual in Zambian culture. One farmer we spoke to employed 150 permanent staff with 47 of these being security guards to deter theft on the property. When his staff earnt more, there was a cultural expectation they’d feed and house more family members.”

Mrs Nugent-O’Leary said she felt the answer lay in upskilling and uniting small holder farmers so they could better stand up and fight for their own space in the market.

“Like all farmers they need an integrated supply chain where they can profitably grow, store, sell and deliver the produce the customer wants. The large farms are far more productive, provide much needed employment and certainly have an important place. However, a wholesale shift to this style of farming would risk undoing the social fabric of the country,” she said.

The increasing availability of smart phones and access to the internet was one development which would help increase access to knowledge and information, Mrs Nugent-O’Leary said.

“There are reportedly more smart phones than tooth brushes in Africa and if Zambian farmers can tap in to the power of the internet this will undoubtedly improve access to key information and customers,” she said.

As a follow on from the Master Class event, a number of initiatives are currently being looked at by Rabobank to provide opportunities for Zambian farmers to increase their agricultural knowledge. One initiative being considered is the development of an exchange program which would see Zambian farmers brought out to New Zealand to observe local agricultural practices.



Rabobank New Zealand is a part of the international Rabobank Group, the world’s leading specialist in food and agribusiness banking. Rabobank has more than 115 years’ experience providing customised banking and finance solutions to businesses involved in all aspects of food and agribusiness. Rabobank is structured as a cooperative and operates in 40 countries, servicing the needs of about 8.6 million clients worldwide through a network of close to 1000 offices and branches. Rabobank New Zealand is one of the country's leading rural lenders and a significant provider of business and corporate banking and financial services to the New Zealand food and agribusiness sector. The bank has 33 branches throughout New Zealand.

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