A woman cooking in a hut in Zambia. Credit: GCShutter/E+ via Getty Images

What constrains agricultural productivity in Zambia?

Policy paper Firms

The agricultural sector is a fundamental cornerstone of the Zambian economic and social structure. The sector's influence extends wide, with some estimates indicating that agriculture plays a role in the livelihood of 8 out of 10 Zambians, either directly or indirectly. However, the sector's productivity currently falls short of its potential. The sector engages 59% of the workforce yet contributes merely 3.4% to the national GDP. This means that many Zambians are working towards relatively little output.

This underperformance becomes especially apparent in maize yields: Zambia has unrealised potential yields of up to 10 metric tonnes per hectare, marking it one of the highest yield gaps in the region. Given the wide-reaching socio-economic impact of the sector, improving its productivity represents an opportunity for sustainable economic growth, poverty reduction, and overall betterment of societal wellbeing in Zambia.

This paper aims to shed light on the challenges related to this, drawing from the academic and practitioner literature and relying on insights from stakeholders within the sector. After providing an overview of the sector and its current state, the paper continues by exploring the government policies that aim to support agricultural producers, and presents key statistics that underline the productivity issues at hand. Finally, it discusses the primary constraints hindering Zambia's agricultural productivity. We provide a comprehensive understanding of challenges related to:

  1. Resilience to climate change;
  2.  Improving access to agricultural finance;
  3. Market access;
  4. Adoption of agricultural technologies.

By presenting evidence on these issues, the paper contributes towards the broader discussion on the future of agriculture in Zambia and the pathways towards sustainable growth in the sector. Government's consideration, as informed by subsequent sections of this policy framing paper.