LUSAKA — According to a report by the World Food Programme, the Zambia poverty rate is 60 percent. Forty-two percent live in what is considered to be extreme poverty. Furthermore, those living in rural tend to have higher rates of poverty, at about 76.6 percent. The area with the highest rate of poverty is the Western province with a rate of about 82 percent.
Even though Zambia has the eighth-largest copper mineral deposits in the world, why is it that the country, and those living within it, is not richer?
The answer lies in the history of the copper industry in Zambia. It was originally discovered by British explorers in the 1890s that the country was rich in the resource. They had seen the copper jewelry that the population wore and began mining it. This led to an industry that revolved around copper, even long after the British left and Zambia became an independent nation in 1964.
Over the following 35 years after independence, Zambia would see a slump in prices of copper which would, in turn, lead to a dip in its economy. Despite suggestions by both the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, Zambia did not diversify its economy. At its peak, the copper industry employed 65,000 Zambians, but now only employs around 30,000.
This drop in both the economy and employment options offered to Zambians has certainly been felt by the population. When the copper industry was still booming, urban Zambia poverty rate was almost nonexistent. As the copper industry fell, the incidence of urban poverty increased to just below 50 percent in the 1990s, according to a World Bank report.
However, this year, the government of Zambia released a plan for 2017-2021 which highlights five distinct areas. They include: economic diversification and job creation, poverty and vulnerability, reduced developmental inequalities, enhancing human development and conducive governance environment for economic diversification.
The emphasis in this plan seems to be on diversifying the economy and the World Bank is currently conducting a Systematic Country Diagnosis to better understand and help the government develop more concrete solutions. As the government of Zambia considers alternative options to copper to diversify its economy, the answer may lie in the agricultural sector.
Currently, the Zambia Development Agency has been researching ways in which Zambia can begin development in industries like coffee, sugar and cotton. A report by the Zambia Development Agency also revealed that equitable wealth and income distribution seemed most likely in the cotton and sugar sectors. The cotton industry alone currently supports around 21 percent of the Zambian population, either directly or indirectly, while accounting for 19 percent of the national GDP. With the introduction of these alternative employment options in the industry, the government is hoping that the Zambia poverty rate will fall.
– Sydney Roeder