IT is gratifying to note that local farmers have started supplying their produce to chain stores to ensure there is no shortage during this period of Covid-19.
During his third address to the nation on Covid-19 on 24 April 2020, President Edgar Lungu directed the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry to ensure that chain stores prioritise local agricultural products in their localities.
The Covid-19 period opens a window of opportunity for Zambian farmers to produce and sell their products to chain stores, that for a long time have denied them business and opted for foreign products.
For a long time, local farmers have had challenges supplying their produce to chain stores mainly due to various reasons such as lack of capacity to produce enough supply and not meeting the required standards.
It is for this reason that the President urged citizens to form cooperatives to ensure that they meet quality and safety demands if the directive for chain stores to procure Zambian produce is to be actualised.
Government involvement in the supply chain in terms of setting policies and regulatory frameworks are important in determining the type of procurement systems that develop and whether local producers especially small-scale farmers and processors access and supply to supermarkets.
Retail supermarket chains by nature are transforming agri-food systems in many developing and developed countries.
Commerce, Trade and Industry Minister, Christopher Yaluma, said a taskforce has been formed.
This includes the chain stores, Zambia Association of Manufacturers and other players in the industry which are aggressively tackling the issue of ensuring local farmers are given top priority by chain stores.
“There is a very active task force going on right now and we meet every fortnight. We have identified everything and most farmers have started infusing into the chain stores. Gladly, part of the taskforce is the chair from South Africa, who is the ShopRite chief executive officer representing the chain stores,” Mr Yaluma said.
As the directive is being actualized, it is important to ensure voluntary code of conduct between supermarkets and local suppliers.
This could address issues such as the payment period for locally sourced products by shifting the balance of buyer power held by supermarkets and allow for farmers to better negotiate prices of goods supplied to supermarkets.
It could also address information irregularities on the capabilities required to supply supermarkets; and address transportation costs faced farmers through the development of centralised distribution centres.
We also feel the need to harmonise Zambia Bureau of Standards (ZABS) standards with those in regional markets.
This will increase the competitiveness of Zambian products and ease entry not only into supermarket value chains but into regional export markets as well.
Even when farmers are organised in groups, they still have a difficult time in meeting grades and standards of these supermarkets.
Supermarket regional procurement strategy. Entry into regional markets could be facilitated through a regional procurement strategy that would allow local processing from supplying Zambian supermarkets to supply other subsidiary supermarkets in the region.
To achieve this, suppliers can leverage on South African trucks which supply products to supermarkets in Zambia but return empty.
These trucks could offer domestic farmers a cheaper and easier mode of transporting quality Zambian products into South Africa and beyond.