By CHILA NAMAIKO –
IMAGINE a country without farmers, there would be hunger and starvation because people would not have a variety of agricultural products to purchase or consume.
As such, the agricultural sector remains a pillar of the Zambian economy by contributing to economic growth and employment creation.
The sector continues to be a priority of Government through increased annual budgetary allocations so as to enhance productivity on food security, income generation and poverty reduction.
Maize is a staple crop frequently grown across the country mainly for consumption and to some extent for exports to neighbouring countries thereby enhancing Zambia’s foreign exchange.
Southern Province which is also home to the country’s premier tourist attraction the ‘Mighty Victoria falls’ is key to the nation’s maize production.
The central part of the province which is commonly referred to as Southern Plateau contains one of the largest areas of commercial farm-land and produces maize bumper harvests annually.
In the 2012/2013 farming season, however, production of maize in the province was marred with hiccups leading to low yields and resulted into hunger crisis being experienced in some of the districts across the country.
They were first detected in Chibombo in Central Province, Chisamba and Chongwe districts of Lusaka Province and spread to Southern Province causing wide-spread damage to maize plants.
The army worms travel in small insect armies and consume everything in their path.
They are most active at night and usually hide under garden debris during the day and rapidly consume plants.
Provincial Agricultural Coordinator (PACO) Samuel Mukalebai said seven districts which include Mazabuka, Monze, Kalomo, Namwala, Kazungula, Chikankanta and Siavonga were adversely affected by army worms infestation and about 50 per cent of maize hectarage were damaged.
“The outbreak of the army worms could have been associated with the change in the rain pattern this season,” Mr Mukalebai said.
As a result of poor rains and delayed distribution of farming inputs in some districts, some remote areas are likely to face severe hunger.
In Gwembe, District Commissioner Alice Mwiinga said Government had disbursed about 150 tonnes of relief maize to more than 3,000 hunger stricken households.
In Sinazongwe, the situation was similar and area District Commissioner Dodo Sindaza said DMMU and FRA were expected to distribute more than 100 tonnes of relief maize.
Crop marketing season
Despite poor crop production, scores of farmers however, have thanked FRA for buying their maize but the majority complained of having incurred huge losses as a result of low maize yields.
This year’s marketing season which should have ended on October 31, was extended by Government to November 15, to enable FRA meet its target of buying about 500,000 tonnes of maize.
Before the extension, FRA was said to have purchased an estimated 425,000 tonnes.
James Muleya of Chief Chikanta’s area in Kalomo where the chiefdom is among the top maize producers in the province hailed the extension, saying it enabled more farmers to sell their maize.
On a sad note, commercial farmers in Choma have been living in fear due to increased cases of criminal activities and want Government to safeguard their investments.
The farmers told Vice-President Guy Scott during a recent meeting in Choma that they were living in fear because of an increase in incidences of criminal acts on their farms.
Neil Kirkpatrick, a dairy farmer said criminals were terrorising them by trespassing on their farms with the aim to steal cattle and other commodities.
He said farmers want protection of their investments especially that most of them had invested heavily and were providing employment opportunities to the local people through jobs.
Hamish Ross said criminals were even trailing farmers whenever they go to banks in Choma town in an attempt to rob them, a situation which he said, was putting their lives in danger.
Apart from attacks from robbers, some farmers have been killed by vicious wild beasts as the case was recently.
Not too long ago, an 84-year old white farmer of Choma who was on foot patrol of his farm with a dog was attacked and killed by wild animals.
Dr Scott assured farmers that Government would always secure their investments and their lives.
To contain livestock diseases, Government was putting valuable measuresin place to tackle the challenges through free-livestock immunisation for small-scale farmers in the province.
Provincial Veterinary Officer (PVO) Charles Maseka said Government had procurred more than 330,000 vaccine doses for vaccination exercise in the five prone districts.
These include Mazabuka, Monze, Kalomo, Namwala and Livingstone where Government had already purchased doses meant for the second phase of vaccination exercise to which 400,000 herds of cattle had been vaccinated against Foot and Mouth disease.
Namwala was leading in cattle population and was expected to receive the highest allocation of about 130,050 vaccines, Livingstone 78,000, Mazabuka 51,000, Kalomo 26,250 and Monze 48,000.
Agriculture and Livestock Deputy Minister Luxon Kazabu said during recent tour of selected districts in the province that Government was concerned with perennial outbreak of
Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia (CBPP).
National Insemination Centre
Government and the Czech Republic have commissioned the first ever National Insemination centre (NIC) in Mazabuka with the main objective of increasing production of the livestock sub-sector in Zambia.
The Zambia Government pumped in more than K4 million while the Czech Republic disbursed US$650,000 in the first phase of the project while in phase two, about $350,000 was invested.
Mr Kazabu said during commissioning that NIC would increase livestock productivity through improved reproductive technology such as artificial insemination and embryo transfer of cattle.
“This centre will address challenges in the livestock sub-sector among them low conception rate, long calving intervals and high calf and adult mortality due to high prevalence of diseases,” he said.
To this effect, Government in the 2013 Budget allocated about K3 million towards the establishment of satellite artificial insemination centres in selected parts of Zambia.
Czech Republic ambassador to Zambia Petr Stary said his country was committed in investing in Zambia’s agriculture sector and other areas like health and education to Zambian welfare.
“My country will always support your country’s efforts in developing the agricultures sector, we will also improve our support to other sectors namely health and education,” he said
Distribution of 2013/2014 farming inputs
Most of the districts in the province have so far received D-Compound bags of fertiliser and are waiting for arrival of Top Dressing.
In Sinazongwe, Government has distributed more than 9,380x50kgs bags of D-Compound fertiliser, a move which impressed the local farmers.
District Cooperative Union (DCU) secretary Jason Muleya said in previous years, the district used to receive farming inputs late and in small quantities but he was happy with Government for delivering the commodity in time.
In Namwala, the district had received more than 4,000 by 50kgs bags of D-Compound fertiliser following the recent flag off of the 2013-14 countywide fertiliser distribution exercise under FISP.
In June this year, President Sata flagged off the exercise at NCZ in Kafue where he said his administration would revive agriculture sector which was among pillars to economic growth and food stability.
On the other hand, the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) in the province was expected to support about 1,000 small-scale farmers under its Lima Credit programme with Zanaco this year.
Under this farming scheme, farmers affiliated to ZNFU were required to pay about K1,300 cash as collateral for a loan on farming inputs for a one hectare piece of land.
Southern regional manager Emmanuel Sinyangwe said the 1,000 farmers would cultivate 2,700 hectares of maize and 500 hectares soya beans this farming season.
He said, out of 1,000 farmers, 700 were from Choma and Kalomo districts, while 300 from Livingstone and Kazungula districts.
He said the Lima Credit scheme had numerous benefits in that, the same K1,300 paid by farmers affiliated to ZNFU, also benefited from a component of insurance for their agricultural crops.
2014 Agric forecast
The Government, in its quest to enhance agricultural sector, has allocated about K3.08 billion representing 7.2 per cent of the total Budget allocation for the year 2014.
Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda outlined the key agricultural interventions such as building of dip tanks and silos for which an allocation of K2231.9 million has been provided.
He said when he presented the 2014 Budget in Parliament recently that Government would enhance grain storage capacity to 1.3 million tonnes by the next year and that K80.9 million was also allocated for irrigation industry.
Given the vast resource gift of land and water, Zambia has potential to expand its agricultural production with opening up of new farming blocks for commercial development and job creations.