Repositioned agro sector set for bumper harvest
Published On December 27, 2013 » 2721 Views» By Administrator Times » Features
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•MAIZE production is expected to improve.

By JAMES KUNDA –

AGRICULTURE remains one of the sectors that has as expected, complemented the growth of the Zambian economy in the year 2013.

This was buoyed by a number of strategies that Government and other stakeholders in the agriculture sector implemented, to ensure steady growth from farm to market level.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock put up a K500 million Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP), intended to boost production which awfully performed poorly in 2012. Zambia’s maize output was projected at 2.47 million tonnes in the 2012/13 harvesting season, compared to the 2.5 million tonnes of the crop harvested in the previous season.

Under the FISP initiative, Government intended to support 900,000 small-scale farmers countrywide with farming inputs for use in the 2013/14 planting season.

The K100 charge was increased from K50 in 2012, following the move by Government to scrap off the agriculture consumer subsidy in 2013.

Therefore, each farmer would be given two packs by 50 kilogramme bags of basal dressing (Compound-D) fertiliser, 2 by 50 kilogramme bags of top dressing (Urea) each, as well as seed in form of maize, rice, cotton and sorghum.

The fertiliser supplies in 2013 were reduced by half from 2012, where farmers were each given four bags of compound-D and four bags of Urea.

Government would also, through the Food Reserve Agency (FRA), go on to purchase the 500,000 tonnes of maize from the farmers to fill the Strategic Grain Reserves (SGRs).

FRA also estimated to purchase a carry-over stock of 10,500 tonnes of maize as contingency reserves after meeting the current export orders to neighbouring countries.

The first stage of implementing the FISP was the production of over 70,000 tonnes of compound-D-fertiliser at the Nitrogen Chemicals of Zambia (NCZ) plant in Kafue.

Government in 2013, also successfully revived the once cash-strapped NCZ with an investment of K42 million.

From the K42 million, K25 million was used to rehabilitate the Kobe Ammonium Nitrate Plant which is specified for fertiliser production.

This process commenced in April 2013 and by October, NCZ had completed production of 70,000 tonnes of the commodity for onward distribution to farmers.

At the time the consignment was completed, farmers across selected districts in the country had received the commodity through rail and road transport.

The efficiency exhibited by NCZ in producing and delivering the initial consignment of fertiliser, enabled the firm to produce a carry-over stock of 25,000 tonnes of compound-D for beneficiaries of the e-voucher system under FISP.

The E-voucher was merely an incentive to accord farmers in selected districts of the country to acquire a certain amount of inputs using an automated card.

However, due to logistical problems, the E-voucher could not be implemented in 2013 and Government has pledged to test this system in 2014.

NCZ has since gone ahead with the production of fertiliser, which earmarked for delivery to farmers in the designated districts.

This development is however overshadowed by Zambia’s incapacity to produce Urea fertiliser for farmer’s year-in-year out.

The country in 2013 had to import in excess of 50,000 tonnes of top dressing fertiliser from the Middle East at colossal cost to support the farmers.

The maize purchases in 2013 moved at a stable rate though at the closure of the crop marketing season, the FRA had only purchased 426,150 tonnes of maize, from 1, 231 satellite depots across the country.

This was at a cost of K554 million.

Although the FRA did not meet the total requirement for the SGRs, Government has assured that the nation is food secure heading into the next few months before the subsequent crop harvest.

Rain patterns have so far been favourable, signifying that the crop output could improve this time around as in the last farming season; the country experienced a series of unprecedented dry spells.

As the year 2014 begins, Government and stakeholders in the agriculture sector should critically reflect on both the failures and successes of 2013.

This will be key to the improvement of an economic sphere which when well handled can propel Zambia to a regional food basket in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and beyond.

Already, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Zimbabwe, Malawi and Tanzania, are among countries surviving on maize imported from Zambia.

In addition, the Ministry of Agriculture has embarked on mapping out crop zones in the country.

This is aimed at identifying which areas are ideal for growing what crop for example, Eastern Province is much ideal for cotton farming as compared to Western province which is designed for rice growing.

When this project is completed, farmers will have the know-how on what crops to grow best in a particular season for improved crop harvest.

There is also need to support the roll-out of agro processing plants across farm blocs in 2014.

This will enable farmers add value to their own produce at farm level, further enhancing domestic and national food security.

The move will also play a vital role in keeping the price of crop based commodities such as mealie meal within controllable levels.

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