By JOWIT SALUSEKI –
FOR decades, agriculture has been associated with production of essential food crops.
At present, agriculture, above and beyond farming, includes forestry, dairy, fruit cultivation, poultry, bee keeping and mushroom growing.
Today, processing, marketing and distribution of crops and livestock products are all acknowledged as part of agriculture.
This industry plays a critical role in the entire life of a given economy as it is the backbone of an economic system of a country.
In addition to providing food and raw material, agriculture also provides employment opportunities to a large percentage of the population.
However, many small-scale farmers locally have not taken advantage of the need to increase the acres of land on which they cultivate in order to maximise on how much they can reap from this booming industry which is more viable compared to mining.
With an estimated 41 million people, roughly 23 per cent of the 181 million rural population in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are food insecure and out of this figure, more than 21 million are in urgent need of assistance.
The local farmers can make more money if only they doubled their efforts. Local farmers can take advantage of the good climatic weather conditions coupled with Government’s pronouncement that it will increase the number of beneficiaries of the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) from the current 500,000 to 1000,000 in the 2016/17 farming season to increase on how much they can produce.
It is worth noting that Zambia is the only country in the region with a surplus of almost 600,000 tonnes of maize from the 2015/16 farming season.
Zambia Cooperative Federation director general James Chirwa says farmers can benefit from the shortage of cereal in the region in order to grow more crops to feed the hungry.
Equally, the State has said that there is need for farmers to take advantage of the good weather pattern and sound policies to increase food crop production not only for domestic but for the regional market.
Agriculture minister Given Lubinda said over the past years the southern part of the country had been experiencing a reduction in the amount of rainfall and that the Northern part had been favorable hence the need for famers to take advantage.
Mr Lubinda said during the launch of FISP in Ndola recently that the rainfall pattern had negatively affected crop production and that farmers should take advantage of the good weather pattern this year and good Government policies to increase food production.
He said in order to address domestic requirements for maize and take advantage of the deficit in the region Government decided to increase the number of FISP beneficiaries.
“It will take time for the countries in the sub region to recover from adverse weather effects. Therefore as a country we need to take full advantage of our position, the natural resources, good weather patterns as well as Government sound policies to increase food crop production not only for domestic but for the regional market,” he said.
He also said that Government was pursuing the agriculture diversification agenda by supporting and promoting the growing of other crops apart from maize.
SADC recently declared a regional disaster and launched a regional humanitarian appeal for millions hit by El Niño-induced drought.
The SADC comprises 15 countries which include Zambia, Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Dr Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, the Seychelles and South Africa.
Others are Tanzania, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.
SADC chairperson Seretse Khama Ian Khama, who is the President of Botswana, recently declared a regional disaster and launched an appeal for humanitarian and recovery support amounting to US$2.7 billion.
This is in response to the devastating El-Niño-induced drought which has affected an estimated 40 million people across the SADC region, and out of this figure, more than 23 million are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
The appeal is a formal request to the International Community to provide assistance to affected Member States, and it is meant to complement the response efforts at individual Member States level, as a lot has been done by the Countries.
Five member States, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe have declared national drought emergencies. South Africa has declared a drought emergency in eight of the country’s nine provinces, while Mozambique declared a 90-day institutional red alert for some southern and central areas.
This was contained in a Press release by Barbara Lopi, the communications focal point for the SADC El Niño logistics and coordination team.
Similarly, the UN food agency has declared its highest-level emergency in drought-stricken southern Africa and is appealing for $204 million immediately to purchase food and transport it to the region to help millions of hungry people.
World Food Programme executive director Ertharin Cousin told reporters in a telephone briefing from hard-hit Malawi that the El Niño-induced drought — which also affected South America and Ethiopia — has devastated crops and caused harvests to fail in southern Africa.
Currently, she said, 18 million people need emergency food assistance in seven countries severely affected by El Niño, and these are Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
But Ms Cousin said the WFP is anticipating an escalation in needs later this year and estimating that approximately 33 million people will be impacted by El Niño and the upcoming La Niña, which could bring severe flooding.
“This year’s crisis is a food availability problem,” she said. “We’re seeing alarming increases in people facing hunger in several countries.”
Ms Cousin pointed to a more than 150 per cent increase in people without enough to eat in Malawi from 2.83 million in need last year to 6.5 million this year, as well as a 99 per cent increase in Swaziland and a 53 per cent rise in Lesotho.
She said the UN agency would be working to assist 11.5 million people in the seven countries by the end of March 2017. That will require $549 million, including $204 million for immediate needs and to set up a pipeline to scale up the operation as the region goes into the rainy season in October.
“The message today is we have a drought … but we have an opportunity to prevent this drought becoming a severe crisis if we get out ahead of it and provide the food that is required,” Ms Cousin said.
She said WFP declared southern Africa as a level three emergency, its highest level, late last month “because this is primarily a food security crisis.”
The four other level three emergencies that WFP is dealing with are broader and cover all UN funds and agencies in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen.
Thus Zambian farmers can take advantage of the incentives offered by the Government to grow different kind of crops like cassava, groundnuts, and sorghum to feed the nations that are food insecure in the region.