Agri-Tech Expo Creates Info-Tech for Farmers

THE just ended two-day Agri-tech Expo has exposed the need to run the agricultural sector profitably by engaging in crop and livestock diversification if Zambia is to derive the much needed benefits from the sector.

The Agri-tech Expo is a Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) and Golden-Valley Agricultural Research Trust (GART) jointly conceived agricultural technology and agri-business exhibition initiative aimed at introducing world-class agricultural technologies in the country.

One of the objectives of the international expo was to provide an innovation exhibition forum designed to create an information platform that would help drive technology adoption in the growing and rising Zambian agriculture.

The expo, which would be an annual event, would be availing an opportunity for farmers and agro-technology dealers international and local. The expo was held on April 4-5, 2014.

Zambia has more than 40 per cent of Sub-Saharan Africa with plenty of arable land which gives it aantage for the expansion of the sector which needs more concerted efforts to get more benefits from the agricultural sector.

Officiating at the Expo, Vice-president Guy Scott said the Government would focus on boosting the export of maize surplus this year for foreign exchange earnings. Dr Scott said Zambia’s continued focus on copper had contributed to the kwacha’s weakening.

“Recently, we had people complaining that the kwacha was weakening from K5 to a dollar to K6. Well, what do you expect when you produce one commodity, copper, for international trade? The reason the kwacha fell is that we are dependent on one commodity and a commodity that is volatile against expectations in the world economy,” he said.

The vice-president said Zambia’s continued dependence on copper left the country at the mercy of the wind.

He, however, said the Government would this year be inclined towards exportation of grain surpluses. “Our bias this year will be very much towards earning dollars from maize surpluses. We want to support farming, we want to become the food basket of the region,” Dr Scott said.

Dr Scott said there was need for the agricultural sector to earn the country dollars which could be taken to the bureau and changed for kwacha and pull up the demand for the kwacha which he said was a very simple economics.

He said Zambia had massive potential to use grain for its foreign earnings.

“We are self-sufficient in maize, we are self-sufficient in wheat, in vegetables and so on… It is not so many years back when we used to be troubled by the Zimbabwean grain management board which used to move maize through here (Zambia) all the way to the Congo,” he said.

He said the Government was keen about moving agriculture forward.

“You will find this Government a lot more constructive to work because we are commercially oriented, employment oriented, and we’re environmentally oriented,” he said.

ZNFU Evelyn Nguleka urged farmers to adopt appropriate new technologies to boost their productivity.

“We hope to raise the bar on productivity so that five to 10 years from now, we can look back and observe measurable changes for our farmers,” Dr Nguleka said.

Farmers Expo Zambia Limited board chairperson Ashok Oza, said the Agri-tech Expo would now be an annual event.

Former ZNFU president Guy Robinson said high cost finance was affecting farm expansion and agricultural mechanisation in Zambia Mr Robinson observed that high cost of borrowing was hindering farm expansion and mechanisation which needed to be addressed.

“The interest rates for loans in Zambia are very high, it is high time farmers started using machinery and irrigation for agriculture to improve,” he said.

Mr Robinson said Government needed to relook at trade agreements the country entered through trading blocs like the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA

He observed that most of the agreements were ending up disaantaging farmers as most of the agricultural products in some countries were ending up benefiting more.

“We are failing to compete at COMESA and SADC levels in that the agricultural products from some countries are highly subsidized,” Mr Robinson said.

He said farmers were paying a lot of taxes on fuel, Value Added Tax (VAT), as road tax which was resulting in high cost of food in Zambia Mr Robinson said intermittent power cuts were also affecting production in the agriculture sector.

He however, said the Government’s move to embark on massive construction of roads would lead to low cost of inputs Mr Robinson said more emphasis should be taken towards improving the railway infrastructure for the ease and cheaper haulage of inputs and the agricultural produce.

He observed that the Lima Programme by the ZNFU had empowered a lot of farmers in Zambia, adding it was transforming the country from food deficit to food surplus country. Government is pondering raising an agricultural bond to support agricultural diversification outside the Budget.

Agriculture and Livestock Permanent Secretary Julius Shawa said the ministry was working with the Ministry of Finance to raise the bond to support the sector and run agriculture as a business. “We want to come up with bankable ideals on agriculture for the sector operates profitably and sustain the economy of the country,” Mr Shawa said.

He said among crops targeted by the Government were rice, groundnuts, soya beans among others and that it was good that the trend toward soil seeds and legume were receiving a lot of attention by the farmers in Zambia.

In his presentation, Mr Shawa said the ministry had developed agricultural suitability map for the extension officers to use in implementing the diversification programme

He said the suitability map would help Government to which crops could be supported in different farming areas, especially for small-scale farmers in the country. Mr Shawa said diversification should go beyond crops but look at farming, Livestock and poultry farming, especially for the small-scale farmers.

“The problem lies with the small-scale farmers, because large farmers are able to read a signal, that is why we need to support extension services and consider the issue of mechanising farming among the small scale farmers in Zambia,” he said.

Galaunia Farms Limited executive chairperson Michael Galaun insisted that small-scale farmers in Zambia needed to be empowered with technical skills and knowledge to run faming profitably.

Mr Galaun said to support farmers fully the Government should facilitate out-grower partnerships between marketers and small-scale farmers, especially for cash crops.

“Small-scale farmers lack capital and technical know how on growing of cash crops, so out-grower schemes is the way forward,” he said.

The expo attracted lot players in sector ranging from crop, livestock farmers both large and small to agricultural equipment and chemical dealers.

Source : The Times of Zambia

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