LAST week, we featured an article in which I justified the need for the agriculture sector to get a big share of the 2024 national budget.
That was before Finance and National Planning Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane, for the third consecutive time, presented the budget to Parliament last Friday.
In the article headlined, ‘Why agriculture should get lion’s share of 2024 budget,’ I indicated that the agricultural sector is my priority sector for this year for the sake of the budget focus.
I stated that there should be increased funding towards the agricultural sector in general to ensure adequate support towards the cultivation of various crops as well as towards the rearing of livestock.
To ensure enhanced national food security more funds should be allocated towards the support of crop cultivation, starting with maize of course, I concluded.
Interestingly, the proposed 2024 national budget has fulfilled that with increased allocation to the sector.
The agriculture, fisheries and livestock has been allocated a whopping K13.82 billion which is more than the K11.2 billion allocated to the sector in this year’s budget.
The Farmers Input Support Programme (FISP) which Dr Musokotwane emphasised will continue has been allocated K8.5 billion for 2024 as opposed to K9 billion this year.
The slight reduction could be because of the anticipated fall in the prices of fertilisers in 2024 due to various measures the government has put in place.
This is because the government proposes to reduce the cost of fertiliser from US$1,200 per tonne to $865.
Furthermore, the strategic food reserve function will receive K1.68 billion while the farm bloc development, irrigation and extension services will have K598, 376, 550.
To ensure constant supply of the staple food, the government has set aside ample funds for the cultivation of winter crops through this irrigation and farm bloc development.
The targeted farm blocs include the Nansanga in Central Province, Luswishi in Copperbelt Province and Luena in Luapula Province.
In terms of infrastructure for these areas, the government pledges to construct 300 kilometres of the road, 10 bridges and 200 kilometres of power-lines and irrigation facilities.
The Food Reserve Agency will at some point start releasing stocks of maize for community purchase to provide citizens with an alternative source of maize for their own milling using relatively cheaper ways.
This explains why the category has received much more than the K427 million it did in this year’s budget.
Definitely, this will ensure that even amid possible smuggling of the maize, the country will still remain food secure.
Similarly, Dr Musokotwane says that the government will come to an understanding with millers for them to reduce the cost of mealie-meal whenever they source the maize from the FRA.
Generally, the increased funding towards the sector, will enable the government to establish an agro credit-line to provide small scale farmers and emergent farmers, including public service workers, with affordable finances.
To support the growth of the fisheries subsector, Dr Musokotwane says the government will establish three hatcheries in aquaculture park in Kasempa, Samfya and Mushindamo Districts.
There are currently 18 hatcheries already in existence.
For the livestock subsector, the government will make operational regional veterinary laboratories in seven districts and rehabilitate the Central Veterinary Research Institute.
Connected to that, Dr Musokotwane says the government has developed an online system which is being piloted in five provinces for the enhancement of animal identification and traceability which have been a thorny issue when it comes to animal management and exportation.
The system will be linked to Short Messaging System for ease of access by animal owners.
As I indicated last week, Dr Musokotwane reechoed the government’s commitment to launch the Comprehensive Agriculture Transformation Support Programme (CATSP) before the end of this year.
The programme will augment the current government support towards the agriculture sector and bring more different beneficiaries in diverse ways.
Commenting on the proposed budgetary provisions in KPMG 2024 budget highlight booklet, economist Mutisunge Zulu says the 2024 budget is aggressive in unlocking agribusiness potential that has been suppressed for years.
The suppression has been due to the demand and price control focus whose emphasis has now shifted to the supply side.
According to Mr Zulu, getting this right will boost agro contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product from the current three per cent to a more significant figure and heighten its help in the fight against poverty.
“Farming blocs, mechanisation, eradication of export bans, road and power-line access are timely,” he says, and I agree with him.
For comment, call: 0955431442, 0977246099 or email: jmuyanwa@ gmail.com.