Are legumes answer to crop diversification?

AS ZAMBIA embarks on its agricultural diversification agenda, it is important to exploit potential cash crops such as legumes as they present a cost-effective and affordable approach to improved food and nutrition security.
In the wake of climate challenge, legume production has been identified as one of the critical sources of income for small-scale farmers due to its tolerance to drought and pest resistant.
Legume production such as groundnuts and soya beans has the potential to contribute to economic development and job creation as they are major sources of edible oil and other industrial by-products.
However, despite legumes having positive economic impacts on agricultural development and a ready market for small-scale-farmers, production levels still remain low.
It is for this reason that Government is calling on more farmers to venture into legume production to increase income generation, food security and significantly contribute to economic growth through market linkages and job creation.
Minister of Agriculture Michael Katambo notes that as Government makes strides in achieving economic and agricultural diversification, there is need to embrace legumes such as beans, groundnuts, cowpeas and sunflower.
Mr Katambo explained that legume production is one of the key sub-sectors that Government is eager to develop, by producing improved seed varieties through the Zambia Agricultural and Research Institute (ZARI) to mitigate climate change.
“In the wake of climate change, Government is committed to ensure that agricultural diversification is achieved by exploiting the production of more potential cash crops such as legumes which are highly nutritious and market availability is not a challenge,” he noted.
It is evident that there is need to increase legume production by developing appropriate farming techniques as well as conducting trainings for legume producers to enable them to increase production.
And responding to this response, some companies specialised in legume seed production have come on board to develop drought tolerant seeds and to train farmers on the importance of promoting agricultural diversification.
One such company, Afriseed, is working with about 70, 000 small-scale farmers to promote agricultural diversification through the production of beans, groundnuts, cowpeas and sunflower.
The firm also plans to train over 1, 000 small-scale farmers in seed production to enable them to acquire vast knowledge on agricultural production.
Company chief executive officer Stephanie Angomwile explained that Afriseed is committed to supporting agricultural development by producing various legume seeds with the potential to contribute to food security and to ensure farmers achieve higher yields.
“In view of Government’s diversification agenda, we are committed to seeing that farmers grow diversified crops not only to generate income but food security as well as to contribute to economic development.
“As Afriseed, we are specialised in legume seed production [and] we are currently working with about 70, 000 farmers and we are optimistic that more farmers will come on board,” she noted.
Another company Syova Seeds Zambia Limited has invested about K3 million to support legume production in the country.
The company, which is an East African company operating in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Zambia sells seedling for tomatoes and red onion .
Company business development manager David Nganga noted that the money was injected in the local economy to help provide seed products and chemicals for farmers across the country.
Mr Nganga explained that the legume market is one area that farmers can explore to increase their income levels, maintain high yields and to effectively run agriculture as a business.
“The legume sector has had a lot of potential for the past two years that we have participated in the different seasons of selling our products. We have seen that more farmers are requesting us to supply them with big volumes of legumes like cowpeas.
“Last season, we had an order of 30 tonnes but we could not manage due to some registration requirements that we needed to do for us to supply big quantities. There are a lot of people cultivating some legumes and we are looking at registering more varieties so that we can supply the market,” he said.
It is notable that Zambia’s biggest agricultural challenge is the lack of availability of high quality early generation and certified seed in the right quantities and at the right time for smallholder farmers.
To promote legume production, Good Nature Agro, a local firm targets to increase access to improved seed varieties to over 5,000 smallholder farmers in the legume value chain.
The expansion will enable the firm to work with a total of 5,000 farmers producing certified soya bean, cowpeas, groundnuts and pigeon pea seeds in Eastern Province.
Good Nature observed that small-scale famers are often accustomed to growing only maize, and rarely have the means or knowledge to plant any other seed for a more profitable crop especially, that Government extension training for farmers is mostly unavailable.
The firm is also expected to add 5,200 smallholder farmers to the out-grower network and train an additional 80 private extension agents, and this will see farmers benefit from a net income increase of US$500 per hectare.
It is therefore evident that the public sector plays a key role in establishing an environment that encourages, supports investment and technology development in legume seed production to enhance output and the income levels of farmers

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