Mr. Dave Gordon is a commercial farmer and owner of Sable Farms in Zambia’s Chibombo district. He will also be a VIP visitor to the 2017 Agritech Expo at Chisamba from 27 to 29 April. Annemarie Roodbol, a journalist for the organisers, asked him a few questions
Please tell us more about Sable Farms, the history and the sectors you are involved in.
We started the farm in 1973 growing 20 hectares of tobacco and 20 hectares of maize. During the eighties and nineties we bought up adjacent farms. Eventually we were growing 1800-2000 hectares of maize, 200 hectares of tobacco, and we had 500 breeding cows. We were the largest commercial maize and tobacco farmers in the country at that stage.
In 2003, the government started subsidising small farmers so we cur down on our maize and started developing irrigation. By 2005 we had 500 hectares under irrigation. We are developing another 600 hectares at the moment and it will take another to to three years.
In winter we grow wheat, and we also grow soybeans, tobacco, yellow maize for stock feed and some white maize for the market. We have 1100 breeding cows and a large game farm with 17 species of antelope.
How are the current weather patterns impacting your farm?
The beginning of the rains was very similar to last year, with very patchy light showers giving germination difficulties at times. The light showers continued with complete cloud cover for over a month so evaporation was very low.
Nearby areas had floods while the Intertropical Convergence Zone was way in the south of Zambia, Botswana and South Africa. It will come back north soon and we could be in for heavy rains then.
Crops were much better than last year except for the American fall army worm in the maize, which was a big problem. Farmers wonder how it managed to cover Africa in one year! Very strange since the continent is huge.
What are the main challenges facing your business at the moment?
Inflation is always on the increase especially with the huge wage increases in civil services. However, at about K10 to the dollar the kwacha has been stable in the last 10 months. Interest rates for borrowing kwacha are very high, ranging from 25% to 30%. However, dollar interest rates ranges are between 8% and 10%.
Most commercial farmers grow dollar paid crops like soya, tobacco, seed maize, wheat, flowers, ground nuts and a few others. Zambia is a big exporter of seed maize. So you borrow in dollars and pay back your loan in dollars. You use your kwacha income from for things like beef, chicken and vegetables to cover local costs.
You cannot borrow in kwacha, the interest is too high. If you have a big devaluation of the kwacha your dollar income compensates for that.
How important is technology in the future growth of agriculture in Zambia?
Technology is very important. We use John Deere’s Greenstar GPS for yield monitoring and we have a 100 ton weigh bridge where all grain, fuel, fertilizer and so on are weighed.
Does the inconsistent power supply affect your farming operations?
We are now down to only four hours of load shedding per day and sometimes nothing for a while. Last year it was eight hours. ZESCO, our power corporation, is very efficient on WhatsApp with all the farmers in the area, so everyone knows exactly when power will be on or off.
What is your vision for agriculture in Zambia?
I feel we will have big growth in agriculture in the future. Big international companies are moving in right now.
What was your experience at Agritech Expo?
We are very impressed with Agritech Expo. We all are amazed at how well Agritech is organized, the event runs very smoothly and is very impressive. Well done to all.
How important is this event for the Zambian farming community?
AgriTech Expo is very important to Zambian farmers. It is showing all the new technology and the latest equipment available. Many international companies are coming into Zambia, which is good for business and agriculture.
What are you most looking forward to at Agritech Expo this year?
We will have an increase in the livestock section. It will build up every year. We have a big livestock industry in the country.
Anything else you would like to add?
In our area the World Bank and Government of the Republic of Zambia are building the biggest irrigation dam in Zambia, holding 65 million cubic meters of water, which will irrigate 5500 hectares.
The work on the wall, which will be 27 metres high, has started and will be taking 18 months to build. Commercial farmers will use half the water on the south bank and small scale farmers the other half on the north bank. This is an excellent project.
To find out about the Agritech Expo, visit www. agritech-expo.com