By STUART LISULO in Chisamba
ABSA Bank Zambia Plc has partnered with Zambezi Berry Company Ltd to finance the growth and exportation of blueberries in an investment that has so far consumed US $12 million.
And the Zambezi Ranching and Cropping Ltd projects that this year’s blueberry production could hit around 100 tonnes, with the majority of the output earmarked for the export market.
In the meantime, the company has appealed to Government for tax incentives to allow for the business to be more sustainable and continue employing locals.
Addressing the media in Chisamba District, Central Province, recently, Absa Bank Zambia Plc Agri Specialist Remmy Kantumora told journalists that the bank’s investment since Zambezi Berry commenced operations in 2018 had reached around US $12 million so far.
Absa partnered with Zambezi Berry Company Ltd (ZBC) to finance a 50-hectare expansion of a blueberry field to 100 hectares in the bank’s quest to support growth of the agriculture sector through diversification of crops.
“We have been in partnership with Zambezi Berry since 2018, we’ve supported them on the 50Ha expansion where we pumped in some significant amount of dollars to be able to enable them continue their farming. We are happy with the investment that we’ve done. We’ve pumped in over US $7 million. Initially, to do one hectare, it costs US $100,000; so to do the whole 100 hectares, what has gone in is US $12 million,” Kantumora told journalists following a media tour of the Zambezi’s state-of-the-art facilities.
“We are the first and only bank within the sector to support such an investment. For us, we’ve taken a position to support what we are calling ‘trending crops’ and that those crops that are able to grow and be exported across borders to be able to bring in the foreign exchange, hence our interest in this venture.”
Asked if the bank’s investment would likely continue, Kantumora answered in the affirmative.
“That’s likely to grow because, as a bank, we are on an expansion journey, we want to support more farmers; we want to grow our agricultural book as a bank so we are well positioned. For the blueberries, this is an exportable crop; it is bringing in foreign exchange to the country and is employing a lot of Zambians to continue adding to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country.
“So, as Absa, we are happy with the partnership that we have with Zambezi Berry, and we are on this journey together. A hundred hectares is not where the business will end, there is more planned from a hundred hectares, they will invest into another fifty hectares, and another fifty hectares until they are at three hundred hectares,” he said.
Zambezi Ranching and Cropping Ltd Managing Director, Graham Rae, said that the company was targeting to drastically increase output this year to hit around 100 tonnes, which would be a company record.
He was responding to a question on what the company’s production target was for this year.
“I think it’s competitively priced in the market. It’s listed as a ‘wonder food’ and it’s good for all sorts of things; the one that interests me most is cancer, and I have had a few people that have come to me and their oncologists have told them, ‘they must eat 125 grammes of blueberries a day.’ That’s not from me, that’s an oncologist,” he said.
Rae, who once served as Zambia National Farmers’ Union (ZNFU) Second Vice-President, appealed to Government to assist farmers with tax incentives to lower production costs.
Rae explained that much of company’s packaging was imported into Zambia owing to a lack of reliable suppliers, a situation which significantly increased costs.
“If we are going to expand this project anymore, we are going to need to look at it practically and say, ‘yes, we can see why you want this VAT removed because you’re sending it back out.’ So, it’s almost like a ‘bonded warehouse’ for want of a better word. And everything that we don’t export out, then we happily pay VAT on; if we use it locally, then we will pay VAT. It’s very simple, it’s all on import documents so we can reconcile that very easily with the Ministry of Finance,” said Rae in response to a question on their appeal to Government ahead of the 2023 national budget cycle.
ZBC was incorporated in 2017, specialized in the growing of blueberries planted late that same year.
The farm business is undertaken in Chisamba on a 100Ha piece of land leased from a related entity Zambezi Ranching and Cropping Ltd.
It employs around 200 during the farming season and 800 during the harvest period, according to ZBC Estate Manager, Bruce Donaldson.
Demand for blueberries has drastically increased in Europe, China, Singapore and Hong Kong due to changing eating habits and increasing levels of affluence in these regions.
The UK School Meals Programme is another source of demand as blueberries constitute an important part of the menu as a healthy fruit.
The fruits have vitally important health benefits and are popular in muffins, smoothies and other recipes.