Economy & Industry

Reliance on copper exports

A 'middle-income' nation

Due to its economic success, the World Bank has recently reclassified Zambia as a middle-income country. However, outside mining and export centres, the standard of living remains extremely low for ordinary Zambians.

Zambia is one of the top ten producers of copper. The country’s economy is reliant on copper exports, which make up 80% of foreign earnings.

Roadside markets

Roadside markets

In this video… the hustle and bustle of a typical roadside market is captured. Sellers trade goods from stalls set up along bumpy roads. Many Zambians rely on such informal jobs for their living.

Zambia’s economy has grown annually by over 6% in the last few years. This sustained period of growth is due to the mining sector and the demand for copper, which is fuelled by the electronics industry.

Other minerals are also found in the country, including cobalt, gold, silver and iron ore. In addtion, Zambia is a major source of precious stones, including emeralds, aquamarines, amethyst and tourmalines.

Zambia’s emerald deposits are among the world’s largest. The green gem is mined near Luanshya and Ndola and is cut and polished locally.

Jobs outside the mining sector

Apart from mining-related activity, manufacturing in Zambia is limited. Wage costs are high and services such as transport and banking are costly.

HIV/AIDS has stripped the country of many of its professionals, including engineers and civil servants.

As Zambia looks to diversify its economy, tourism and agriculture are becoming important. With instability in neighbouring Zimbabwe, visitors are choosing Zambia as their base to see the Victoria Falls. Adventure sports along the Zambezi River are also helping to attract more tourists – see Tourism & Communication.

Crops like sugar, tobacco, cotton and maize are exported in quantity. Vegetables and flowers are increasingly grown for foreign markets. But in order to expand, commercial agriculture requires further investment and access to electricity.

In the North Western Province around Kabompo, hollow logs are suspended from trees. They contain beehives. Beekeeping is a tradition of this area. Honey and beeswax from more than 6,000 small producers is sold through a central buyer. Because of the wildness of the location, Zambia’s pure honey was the first to be certified as organic by the Soil Association.

Access to electricity

Although power is relatively cheap and plentiful, only around a fifth of Zambians have access to electricity and just 3% of the population in rural areas.

Hydropower: a rich energy source

With its large rivers descending from the plateau through huge valley troughs, hydropower is a rich source of energy for the country.

Major hydro-electric plants are located in the Kafue Gorge, at Kariba and Victoria Falls.

The building of the Kariba dam was a great feat of engineering, requiring almost three million tonnes of concrete (enough for a road from Zambia to Russia). Completed in 1959, the resulting hydro-electric power has been important for the mining industry. However, the project came at a cost to locals; the creation of the vast Lake Kariba displaced more than 50,000 Tonga people.