By BEN PHIRI -
WHILE Zambia has great potential to become the Southern African regional bread basket, the agricultural sector’s contribution to Goss Domestic Product (GDP) is less than 20 per cent due to factors tied to the late distribution of inputs.
Since inception of the Fertiliser Input Support Programme (FISP), the country’s grain production has been increasing steadily recording back to back bumper harvests.
Harvest records between the 2014/15 and 2015/16 farming seasons, show that Zambia produced 3.2 million tonnes and 2.6 million tonnes respectively.
This was despite the poor weather patterns caused by the El Niño.
With the country currently experiencing good rainfall this season, late distribution of inputs will impact negatively on the country’s food security.
Late distribution of inputs and the invasion of army worms on the other hand, have definitely contributed to the already worsening situation.
Agriculture is important for enhancing the Government’s economic diversification process which is a contributing factor towards the achievement of import substitution and can replace copper as a major foreign exchange earner if well managed.
But the current situation where inputs despite being flagged off in May last year, have never fully reached the intended beneficiaries is disturbing to the farming community especially those small scale farmers in far flung areas.
This is vexing in that companies which were contracted by the Government to distribute the fertilisers have not done it to the expectations of the stakeholders.
Although Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Julius Shawa assured in December last year that the whole distribution exercise was expected to be concluded by mid that month, nothing has so far been done satisfactorily.
As if this is not enough, President Edgar Lungu while on a tour of duty in early December, directed all input distributors to move quickly, but that has not been fulfilled and just last week, Chief Chitambo of Serenje just like other traditional leaders, bemoaned the late distribution of inputs to his chiefdom.
There have been instances where basal and top dressing fertilisers were distributed but no seed has reached such beneficiaries.
But who is pulling the strings such that despite the President’s directive, nothing is moving?
The mix could be negligence, incompetence and possible sabotage on the part of those responsible as the system could not be devoid of saboteurs who mix politics with development and want to delay the exercise so that it can reflect badly on the government of the day.
As the Zambia Council of Social Development (ZCSD) has observed, the late distribution of inputs clearly undermines Zambia’s chances of a good harvest.
ZCSD executive director Lewis Mwape is right because late input distribution is not only worrying but also suspicious and it is important that those responsible should speed up the exercise.
“This process should be treated as a matter of urgency if we have to record another bumper harvest this year,” Mr Mwape says.
He added that late delivery of inputs can have a serious implication on the economy and people’s livelihood especially in rural areas where small scale and peasant farmers have no money to buy fertiliser.
This is what has disappointed President Lungu who during the tour of three farming districts of Luangwa, Chisamba and Chirundu, warned of drastic action on those delaying the distribution exercise.
“I cannot accept any excuses for poor performance that might lead to a poor harvest; I will be taking decisive action against any civil servant at any level who will be seen to be standing in our quest to ensure sustainable food security.
“I expect all civil servants to take heed of this warning and ensure that they execute the agro input distribution exercise expeditiously” the President warned.
Agriculture Minister Dora Siliya observes that over the years general production especially among the small scale farmers had been quite insignificant.
She says despite Government investing more money in FISP, there has been no improvement in the agro sector’s contribution to the country’s GDP which has remained at not less than 20 per cent.
“This is why the Government is trying to review FISP to improve production. We are looking at issues of productivity so that at some point our farmers can improve production,” Ms Siliya said.
President Lungu during the launch of the 2016/2017 planting season at Zambeef’s Huntley Farm in Chisamba recently, said Zambia had the potential to be the regional food basket and that he did not expect the country to import grain.
In fact, if all things being equal as the President indicated, Zambia can produce up to 10 million tonnes of grain per annum.
While this is achievable, the problem is with the calibre of the companies that have been contracted to distribute the inputs.
There should be no room for saboteurs because they can derail such an ambitious dream.
This is where the issue of strengthening cooperative unions become cardinal as these entities can play a significant role in easing input distribution bottlenecks.