Zambia Economics and Business

As one of the only two countries beginning with Z listed on Countrieszipper, Zambia has a largely agrarian economy that is heavily reliant on copper mining and exports. The agricultural sector accounts for around 25% of GDP, with copper mining being the largest contributor. Over the past decade, Zambia has experienced strong economic growth driven by increased investments in infrastructure and access to foreign markets. Despite this progress, inequality and poverty remain major challenges due to the large size of its population. To address these issues, the government is focusing on developing small businesses and creating jobs for young people. Additionally, Zambia has implemented several reforms to attract foreign investment and create a more favorable business environment.


The country’s economy, which is largely dominated by copper mining and related activities, expanded sharply during the 1960s and 1970s as a result of the high world market price of copper. Despite major investments in primarily physical and social infrastructure, development of other parts of the economy did not succeed. Falling copper prices in the mid-1970s therefore led to an acute economic crisis, which manifested itself in a shortage of trained labor, a lack of foreign currency to buy the necessary input goods and for maintenance of the transport network and debt repayment problems. Continued shortcomings in economic policy during the 1970s and 1980s led to a strengthening of the country’s economic problems, including acute food shortages as well as sharply rising inflation and unemployment. In the early 1990s, a program of economic restraint was introduced. This, coupled with increased demand for copper, is now creating growth in the Zambian economy.

Zambia Economics and Business

Note: the capital city of Zambia is Lusaka with a population of 2,000,000 (estimate 2014). Other major cities include Kitwe, Ndola, Kabwe, Chingola, Mufulira, Livingstone.


Zambia’s topography, with, among other things, high altitude variations, provides good growing opportunities for a large variety of crops. Although almost 10 percent of the country’s total area is cultivated, agriculture is important from the employment point of view; about 60 percent of the economically active population derives their income from the sector.

In economic terms, agriculture is less important. The country’s agriculture is characterized by a large number of small farms focusing on self-management as well as a few hundred large, commercially oriented farms. The large farms are mostly located near the railway lines. The predominant food crop is maize, which is grown primarily in the smallholder sector. Other important food crops, which are also largely grown in the smallholder sector, are millet and rice.

The main crop crops are wheat, cotton, tobacco, sugar cane, fruit and cut flowers, which are grown primarily in the more large-scale part of the agricultural sector. Sugar, vegetables, fruits and cut flowers are sold abroad. Zambia is one of the world’s largest exporters of roses.


The mining industry dominates the country’s exports. Copper accounts for about 65 percent of the country’s export revenue. In addition to copper, cobalt is mainly extracted, but also including zinc, gold and silver as well as coal and diamonds. Mineral extraction began in 1906 with the opening of the lead and zinc mine Broken Hill at Kabwe. Copper mining started in the 1920s. From its inception, copper mining grew until the record year 1969, when the country produced 747,500 tonnes of unrefined copper, which represented 12 percent of world production. Copper extraction takes place mainly in the Copperbelt province with the center around the cities of Kitwe and Ndola. The largest mines are Nkona, Konkola, Nchanga and Mufulira. The country is still one of the world’s largest copper producers, but since the mid-1970s production has dropped significantly. The decline was partly due to reduced demand in the world market, but also to internal problems in the form of obsolete machine equipment, lack of skilled labor, poor maintenance and low investment. In the years before the turn of the century, privatizations were carried out, and these were followed by large foreign investments, mainly from China. Production increased again and during the second half of the 1990s, the top quotations of the 1970s were exceeded.


Zambia’s manufacturing industry is dominated by the food and tobacco industries, followed by the textile, chemical, mechanical and transport industries. Industrial production in the country has suffered from major problems due to a lack of foreign currency for import of raw materials, machinery and spare parts. The sector has been characterized by large state ownership through the Industrial Development Corporation of Zambia Ltd. (INDECO), which accounted for 75 percent of production in 1991 through the companies it controlled. The sector has also been greatly affected by government regulated prices, import quotas and the allocation of foreign currency. Since the mid-1980s, and especially after the change of government in 1991, economic policy liberalization has taken place, which has had a negative impact on many companies that were previously protected by customs. Since the late 1990s, the trend has been upwards. Growing industries are the textile, construction, food and tobacco industries.

Zambia GDP (Nominal, $USD) 2003-2017

  • COUNTRYAAH: Find major trading partners of Zambia, including major exports and major imports with latest trade value and market share as well as growth rate.

Foreign trade

Zambia’s exports are strongly commodity- and mineral-dominated, with an emphasis on copper, which accounts for approximately 65 percent of total export revenue, and cobalt. Imports are dominated by machinery, machinery, transport equipment and transport equipment, as well as manufacturing, which together account for 72 percent of the import value. Other important import products were fossil fuels and food. Dominant recipients of exports are Switzerland, China and Congo (Kinshasa). For imports, South Africa is the most important trading partner, followed by Congo (Kinshasa) and China.

About the author