East Farmers Cry for Good Policies

AGRICULTURE remains a priority sector in achieving sustainable economic growth and reducing poverty in Zambia.

This is because the country has immense natural resources such as land, water and fertile soils to support agricultural activities.

In addition, more than 80 per cent of the rural population depends on agriculture-related activities for their livelihood.

However, low investment in the sector and low production and productivity, especially among small-holder farmers are some of the serious challenges currently affecting the agricultural sector.

Despite agriculture being a major economic activity, especially among rural communities, its potential remains largely untapped due to a number of challenges.

Even after 50 years of independence, the country has continued to rely on simple and relatively inexpensive agricultural research programmes to enhance agricultural productivity.

Against this background, Government is keen to ensure that sector develops to the fullest and benefit masses.

It is for this reason that the Eastern Province has in the last four years recorded bumper harvests with the highest production of maize, cotton, and groundnuts.

The Government has also been promoting sustainable agriculture with emphasis on diversification to enhance production in the region.

With support from international organisations such as the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CYMMT) and other organisations, government has managed to educate farmers in Lundazi, Chipata, Katete and Petauke on the benefits of sustainable agriculture.

A number of farmers are appreciating the use of legumes in improving soil fertility as opposed to the use of fertilisers.

The Government has made positive steps in improving access to markets and inputs by rehabilitating and reconstructing feeder roads in Vubwi, Katete, Petauke, Lundazi and Chipata districts through the Rural Roads Unit (RRU).

Paramount chief Mpezeni commends government for enhancing agriculture in the province.

However, Paramount chief Mpezeni notes that more needs to be done to further enhance agricultural activities in the province by improving on the delivery of inputs and adjusting upwards, the maize floor price which has been K65 in the last three years.

He said maize production is labour intensive hence the need to increase the floor price.

“Prices of other goods and services especially that of fuel, have increased, but the price of maize has remained at K65, there’s need to increase it so that farmers can derive enough benefits from farming,” he said.

Other farmers in Chipata district have also complained about unfavorable markets, especially in the marketing of tobacco and cotton.

Chipata District Farmers Association (CDFA) coordinator Virgil Malambo says farmers who wait for international markets to determine the prices of the two cash crops sometimes incur losses as they invest a lot of money in the production of the crops only to sell at a low price during marketing of their produce.

“For instance the marketing of tobacco has not been favourable this year as the prices offered for the commodity have been lower than what most of the farmers spent in the production of tobacco,” he said.

He says the farmers are tied to sell only to merchants who give them loan for either cotton or tobacco regardless of price offered by the merchants.

“They have no choice but to sale to the same merchants even when the price is too low, because of this some farmers are not able to pay back the loans.” He says.

He says independent growers have not been able o access markets for their tobacco this year because the merchant are only buying the commodity from farmers who were given loans.

Ali Phiri of Chipata’s Mafuta area says in the past farmers suffered due to unfavorable agriculture policies like delaying the announcing of the maize floor price.

“There is need for government to address these issues in order to motivate farmers and enable them get value for their efforts.” Mr Phiri said.

However, government is aware of the challenges faced by farmers and intends to seek ways in which to adequately address them in order to improve on production and subsequently lead to economic independence.

Agriculture Minister Wylbur Simuusa, who recently visited the region says government is determined to ensure that the agricultural sector becomes a key source of the country’s foreign exchange.

Mr Simuusa says the demand for maize from neighboring countries such that the Southern Africa should stimulate growth of the country’s economy.

“We are able to produce enough for food security and exports to these countries where there is high demand,” Mr Simuusa said.

He said his ministry was the only key sector for the economic diversification of the country hence the need for farmers in the province to work hard and increase harvest production as it currently stand at only about 30 per cent.

Mr Simuusa says that government in the 201415 farming season intends to distribute the farming inputs on time so that farmers could have the commodity in their custody by latest September.

Eastern province has since started receiving inputs for the 201415 farming season. Senior Economist in the Ministry of Agriculture, Kwibisa Malimba confirmed that Chipata, Lundazi and Katete districts have received their D- Compound fertiliser.

Mr Malimba says that the allocation of maize fertiliser for Eastern Province has this year increased by 11 per cent from last year’s allocation while that of groundnuts has increased by 120 per cent this year.

He said the province has been allocated about 183,000 metric tonnes of D Compound and basal dressing fertiliser this year compared to last year’s allocation of 164, 385 tonnes.

Mr Malimba added that the allocation of inputs for groundnuts is 12, 720, while 2, 220 thousand metric tonnes is for sorghum.

In order to further aance the sector, Provincial Minister Malozo Sichone notes that there’s need to change the policy on FISP with a well-stipulated general policy on crop production.

Mr Sichone calls on all stakeholders work together in addressing the challenges in the sector and that there is need to work as a team with a view to solve numerous problems faced by the agricultural sector in the region which is viewed as a business venture in the modern times.

He stresses the need for the government to come up with an outright policy on FISP so that farmers are protected from unscrupulous dealings.

Poverty eradication will only be realised if all players in the agricultural sector are supported by sound agricultural policies that will help improve the welfare of small-scale farmers who contribute 35 per cent of GDP.

Currently, the sector contributes 16 per cent to the country’s GDP. Therefore, investment in the agriculture is critical in ensuring that the sector benefits the masses by creating wealth and reduces poverty.-ZANIS

Source : The Times of Zambia

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