NANCY MWAPE, Monze
THE on-set of rains signals another planting season for farmers and sets the stage for a bumper harvest.
However, timely planting has a direct impact on the quality and yields attained at the time of reaping.
Farmers are slowly increasing productivity as they embrace mechanisation and modern farming methods through new and sustainable methods of production such as conservation farming.
In the past few years, the country has recorded bumper harvest in the staple crop, maize and other produce.
To signal the importance that Government attaches to the agriculture sector, President Edgar Lungu last month launched the 2017/2018 planting season, depicting the need to practice crop diversification.
The President planted soya beans, sunflower, groundnuts and maize, using diverse technologies and demonstrated tractor ripping and hand hoe tillage of land to small-scale farmers in Monze.
Elated host farmer, Munachoongo Muleya an emerging farmer with 150 hectares of land, said her family is trying to diversify production by including cultivation of bananas, Brazilian grass, rearing of goats and diary production.
Mrs Muleya, who grew up on a farm, encouraged fellow farmers to diversify their production and consider agriculture as a business.
“As farmers in Monze district, we appreciate the e-voucher system and the inclusion of legumes.
“However, as women farmers, we face a lot of challenges such as access to finance. We would like to expand our production and add value to our produce to get a better price,” she said.
Low productivity and access to the markets have continued to be major drawbacks for farmers.
Zambia National Farmers Union president Jervis Zimba called on Government to support farmers through timely distribution of inputs and payment for commodities supplied to the Food Reserve Agency.
“Difference in planting time can lead to a good or bad yield, but also timely distribution of inputs and payment of farmers by the FRA is important for the survival of farmers,” Mr Zimba said.
He also encouraged his fellow farmers to take heed of the government directive to diversify agriculture, explore new market opportunities and grow specific crops to meet the identified demand.
Exporting agriculture products has been identified as one way of the major ways of sustaining large-scale farming.
Mr Zimba also appealed to seed companies to diversify their production by investing in seed trials for other commodities such as sunflower and sorghum.
Farmers were also warned to beware of fake seed and fertilisers, by buying inputs from reputable outlets and agro-dealers.
In the last five years, the country has witnessed a tremendous increase in maize production with the 2016/2017 farming season recording 3.6 million metric tonnes.
Minister of Agriculture Dora Siliya, however, noted that despite the country registering bumper harvest in maize production, Zambia is among countries at the bottom of the world hunger index.
“There is need to redefine food in Zambia as people think it is only maize that constitutes nutrients. We need capacity building for our farmers to grow other crops apart from maize,” she said.
To encourage crop diversification, 20 percent of the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) will go towards the production of legumes.
Government also assured farmers that K1.7 billion will be released under FISO to one million farmers, with each receiving K1, 700.
Gracing the event, President Lungu directed Ms Siliya to ensure farm inputs for this season are distributed on time and the e-voucher cards are activated immediately, to enable farmers access farm inputs.
“Minister, I am not asking you to fire people. I am asking you to get people to work and fire them if need be.
“Sound agricultural practices such as planting within the window for planting our crops, is vital as this will determine crop success. Therefore, I would like to see the distribution of farm inputs expedited. We cannot afford to continue repeating past mistakes which threaten the growth of the sector,” President Lungu said.
Government is already taking steps aimed at boosting agriculture productivity. The Ministry of Agriculture is expected to recruit 700 extension officers to improve service delivery across all areas of agriculture.
The President, however, expressed confidence that the extension officers that will be employed will equip farmers with new farming methods that will not only improve productivity, but will also promote soil conservation.
He said effects of climate change can only be mitigated when farmers become proactive by seeking diverse ways of boosting production in the most efficient manner.
“Let us diversify our approaches in dealing with climate change. For instance, let us plant other varieties of crops which are resistant to harsh weather conditions,” he said.
President Lungu also expressed concern that Zambia still exports agricultural commodities in raw form, thereby depriving the country revenue and job opportunities.
To address this, Government is working hard to make the manufacturing sector more buoyant through value addition to produce.
With value addition, the agriculture sector will be enhanced and this is why Government has made it possible for small, medium and large agricultural businesses to operate in the agro sector.
Government is confident that once value addition is achieved, Zambia will be able to supply primary products to the vast market of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and beyond.