Published on Africa Can End Poverty

From recovery to real rewards: The story of Zambia’s private sector resilience

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If the measure of a man is not how he falls but how he rises when he does, so then the measure of an enterprise is not that it will face a crisis, but how it rebounds when it does. The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic spared no one. Economies across the globe are still dealing with the cascade of aftershocks caused by the disruptions to “business as usual.”

However, for many agribusiness entrepreneurs in Zambia, business as usual was already an uphill battle. A volatile currency, rising inflation, and the global shutdown and its ripple effects, meant an already grim outlook for agribusiness entrepreneurs. The battle was simply to stay open.

Enter the Zambia Agribusiness and Trade Project (ZATP), developed to contribute to increased market linkages and firm growth in agribusiness. Bringing public and private stakeholders together, ZATP has mobilized $5.7 million private sector capital into the agribusiness sector since its inception in 2016.

ZATP addresses two key challenges of the agribusiness and food processing sectors in Zambia: one, the lack of market access, and two, farmer and firm-level liquidity constraints. Key interventions include building farmer productive alliances that facilitate productivity-enhancing investments, connecting agribusiness SMEs with buyers, capacitating regulatory institutions for a conducive business environment for agribusiness and trade, and developing and rolling out necessary logistics and quality infrastructure enablers in the country.

 A “Supreme” Success Story

In 2010, Ms. Sarah Ngwenya, founder and CEO of Supreme Oil, took the courageous step of starting an agribusiness SME producing edible oil. With only a dream and basic starting capital, she and her team produced and bottled their oil with no confirmed market for their products, and no capacity for certification for sale in chain stores. To sell the vegetable oil her company produced, she would park her pick-up truck with the hope of making some sales.

Through ZATP’s direct market linkages, Supreme Oil products have now met the food standards required by the Zambia Bureau of Standards for sale in chain stores and are certified for export. ZATP also supported Supreme Oil to successfully contract and negotiate with chain stores, NGOs, schools and hospitals, translating into a 40% increase in revenue in just eight months. It is not only a viable business now, but with over 50 workers, is creating much-needed jobs.

Supreme Oil is only one of the 191 high growth small-medium enterprises (SMEs), 50,000 farmers and over 11,000 producer households rendered productive and profitable due to ZATP’s initiatives. This has also contributed directly to an increase of more than 2500 full time equivalent jobs in Zambia. Significantly, 52% of these beneficiaries are female.

African countries face some of the highest water risk in the world
Figure 1: ZATP Infographic (2021/22)

And then came COVID-19

The World Bank COVID-19 Business Pulse Survey found that almost one-fifth of Zambian firms experienced closures, while nine out of every 10 firms experienced decreased cash flows. Forty-two percent reported falling into arrears and 56% of women-led firms had outstanding credit. In addition, 98.5% reported a lack of access to public assistance, with support skewed in favor of large firms (2.3% of large firms accessed policy support, against 0% of micro firms).

In the wake of the pandemic, it became critical for ZATP to adapt accordingly. Technology and digital platforms were leveraged for marketing and sales, enabling linkages with new local markets and chain stores by taking advantage of fall in imports.

For example, the pandemic hit Lyeni Investments—a female-led SME specializing in processing smoked fish—hard, as they experienced a sharp, 40% decline in sales. With support from ZATP, Lyeni quickly identified social media as new platforms to advertise and make sales and mobile apps to receive payments in real-time. They also engaged a logistics company to deliver products to customers. This significantly increased Lyeni’s sales, helping a company that was on the verge of closure not only survive, but reap real rewards.

Innovation for growth and transformation

Innovation has been central to ZATP’s success at pivoting new approaches to market linkages for Zambian agribusinesses. SME MarketConnect initiatives and nearly 900+, tailor-made business development support service trainings—are proving to be key.

Seafood Fisheries, a Zambian-owned processed seafood company established in 2017, is one of the beneficiaries of MarketConnect. Through the initiative, the company received much-needed financial and technical support to expand and access new markets. Acquiring automated processing equipment increased their processing efficiency, allowing them to meet buyer demands. With ZATP’s support, their processed crayfish has since secured a vast export market in China. The company has also established itself on the local market, now supplying to various restaurants, and creating more than 20 new direct jobs, and several more jobs indirectly.

If the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything, it is the resilience and adaptability of Zambian entrepreneurs to turn a crisis into an opportunity – an unquestionable measure of the strength and resourcefulness of a nation that can, with continued support, achieve real economic transformation and break free from the shackles of poverty that continue to burden its hopes for a brighter future.

Too many talented and deserving Zambian youth will go to bed jobless tonight, but together, we can make a difference as we support Zambia on its journey of resilience, recovery and finally reaping real rewards.


Soujanya Krishna Chodavarapu

World Bank Senior Private Sector Specialist

Katarina Zeravica

World Bank Communications Consultant

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