Zambia Agriculture and Fishing Overview

Agriculture and fishing

Zambia’s relatively favorable climate and varying altitude conditions make it possible to grow many different kinds of crops. Yet less than a tenth of the land area is cultivated, which corresponds to about one-sixth of the cultivable area. Around 40 percent of the land area is used as pasture and over half is covered by forest.

  • CountryAAH: Comprehensive import regulations of Zambia. Covers import prohibitions and special documentation requirements for a list of prohibited items.

The fertile land is found mainly along Zambezi and its tributaries. The most important food crop by far is maize, the basic food of the Zambians. Other crops include cassava, sorghum, wheat, sugarcane, peanuts, sweet potatoes, vegetables, fruit, cotton, soybeans, rice and sunflowers.

About 60 percent of the labor force is employed in agriculture. The vast majority of farmers grow for their own use in small fields, which yield low yields. Usually the work is done by women and children with simple tools and methods.

There are also a few hundred large farms with modern farming methods, mainly along the north-south railway line. Tobacco is grown on a large scale and has been an important export commodity since the turn of the millennium. Wheat is grown almost exclusively by means of irrigation on the large farms. Sugar production is sufficient for export. Vegetables, fruits and cut flowers are also sold abroad. Zambia is one of the world’s largest exporters of roses. For Zambia defense and foreign policy, please check prozipcodes.

Drying periods threaten the harvests

Recurring, and not infrequently severe, drought is a major challenge for agriculture and food production. Only large farms have access to irrigation. When drought strikes, Zambia must import maize. In 2015, however, good harvests led Zambia to export maize to drought or flood-affected neighboring countries.

During the socialist Kaunda regime (1964–1991), rural development was one of the highest priority areas. But growth in the industry was hampered by weak organization, lack of skills and transport problems. The government’s subsidies on maize production also meant that many farmers abandoned the cultivation of crops other than maize.

When President Frederick Chiluba won the government in 1991, he carried out a series of reforms, which included the abolition of price subsidies on maize and the mills privatized. An agricultural reform in 1994 enabled leaseholders to take over the collective, a measure aimed at increasing productivity in rural areas. The reform led to a somewhat more favorable development for agriculture, while tougher competition knocked out many small farmers.

Fish-rich lakes and rivers

President Levy Mwanawasa’s government (2001-2008) also prioritized the development of agriculture and the countryside. In particular, it was investing in the development of infrastructure to improve transport possibilities. President Rupiah Banda’s government (2008–2011) continued to expand transport opportunities and reintroduced grants to maize farmers, which increased harvests. In 2010, more than twice as much maize was harvested as 2007.

During the reign of President Michael Sata (2011–2014), the country exported maize to several countries in the region affected by drought or flooding. In 2013, the government abolished subsidies on maize introduced when Sata took office, triggering popular protests. The government defended the decision with the need to keep the state budget deficit in check.

Over half of the land area is covered by sparse savanna forest and bushland. In the Copperbelt in the north, large plantings have been planted to provide raw material for the pulp and plywood industry. But most of the timber for the industry, like wood for households, is taken from the original forests.

There are plenty of fish in the big lakes Tanganyika, Mweru, Bangweulu and Kariba as well as in the rivers Zambezi and Kafue. In 2013, fishing accounted for only half a percent of GDP, but the industry is still important as it creates employment and provides extra income to people in rural areas. Fish is also an important source of protein. Most of the catch is taken by local fishermen with traditional canoes or small boats. Some fish farms are also available. Zambia is not self-sufficient in fish.


Agriculture’s share of GDP

2.6 percent (2018)

Percentage of land used for agriculture

32.1 percent (2016)



Historical change of power after election results

The final election result represents a historic shift in power in Zambia. After more than 20 years in office, MMD loses power to PF, which becomes the largest party with 60 seats. MMD is second with 55 seats and UPND is third with 28 seats. In the presidential election held simultaneously, PF leader Sata wins with 43 percent of the vote, against 36 percent for Banda and 18 percent for Hichilema. The turnout is 54 percent. Sata is installed on the presidential post the same day and forms a new government.

Strict restrictions before Election Day

Nine men and one woman are running for president. As in the 2008 election, Banda is challenged by Sata and Hichilema. Prior to the election, a website is launched where citizens can register suspected election fraud via sms or twitter. Election day will be calm, even if a truck is robbed of ballots in a suburb of Lusaka. Thousands of police officers have been deployed and authorities have banned the sale of axes, machetes and other weapons during the election campaign. When the election results are delayed a few days, riots in the Copperbelt erupt in the north.


Banda is allowed to stand for re-election

A court has ruled that President Banda has the right to stand in the presidential election to be held the following month. The opposition has tried to prevent Banda from participating by claiming that his father was Malawian. According to the constitution, a presidential candidate must have Zambian parents.


Zambia gains new income status

The World Bank announces that Zambia is now considered a lower average income country.


The ex-president dies

President Fredrick Chiluba dies.


Violent demonstration in Mongu

Two people are killed and more than 100 arrested when protesters clash with police in the city of Mongu in the west. The protesters belong to the Lozi people and demand that the government restore the self-government that the Loire Kingdom of Barotseland was guaranteed in an agreement with the British when the kingdom was inaugurated in Zambia at independence in 1964 (see Current Policy and Calendar 2012: April).

Zambia Agriculture and Fishing