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Cereal threatened but Government upbeat

ARMYWORMS and injudicious human activity are combining to decimate the country’s cereal production amid growing confidence—at least from the perspective of Government—that a bumper harvest firmly stands ahead.
This is a story about the moths that have enveloped vast spaces of the country’s productive farms combined with alleged human political tact that are fragmenting all mechanics aimed at achieving a good crop production.
This is against the back-drop of the launch of the early distribution of farm inputs by President Lungu around November 2016 and the follow-up actions that sought to fuel an additional step for a bumper crop harvest.
But lately, there have been reports that some traditional leaders and their agents have sent word to their subjects to shun collecting the Food Security Pack (FSP) on account that the distribution had delayed.
“This is very said because the planting season is not over. I am asking the citizens who were given this instruction by their chiefs to come forward and report so that government can have these chiefs arrested. Citizens have the right to get help from their government,” said Minister of Livestock and Fisheries Michael Katambo.
He fears that people behind the scheme are wealthy and want to transfer the resultant burden on government should a failed crop production lead to poverty.
“By so doing, they will make the country ungovernable. We should not tolerate that because there is already a government in place,” Mr Katambo said in an interview.
The minister said the government wants to provide production incentives to all parts of the country irrespective of their political alienation.
“We are a government for all Zambians, we do not want to be involved in politics even on matters of feeding the people. We just want to work for the people diligently,” Mr Katambo said.
A farmer in Lusaka West, Paul Moonga, argues that the FISP is not a partisan project for some people to influence peasant farmers to stay away from agricultural production.
Mr Moonga, who is member of central committee of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF), said individual farmers who are being influenced to reject the farming inputs, will suffer alone should they heed such advice.
“President Lungu ordered me to check on the progress on FISP distribution process in Mumbwa and I discovered that even those who have been charged with the responsibility to distribute were actually giving fertiliser without seed. This is very frustrating,” Mr Moonga said.
He warned that the burden of poverty in the respective traditional set-ups will effectively affect the chiefs.
Minister of Agriculture Dora Siliya said the armyworms will have little bearing on productivity because only 10 percent of the productive land had been affected while the rest remains intact.
“As such, Government still expects a good crop yield. Productivity will not be affected,” Ms Siliya said at a press briefing.
She said the Government has so far spent close to K20 million in response to the armyworms that broke out in the country last month.
She says Government’s response has been quick but that the country can still learn lessons from the attack by investing in extension services.
Ms Siliya stated that Government would begin to distribute early maturing seeds to those affected.
And Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) national coordinator Patrick Kangwa says there is improved awareness on the armyworms which has resulted in more farmers reporting the cases.
According to Ms Siliya, the agricultural programmes so far in place will prevent the country from suffering a low crop yield going forward.
A report from the Ministry of Agriculture states that Government has introduced the electronic voucher system, which has broadened the input support from crops to livestock and has targeted 241,000 beneficiaries. The e-voucher system has been well received and is supported by the farmers.
Results from the crop forecast survey for 2015/2016 agricultural season and the food balance status for the 2016/2017 marketing season indicate an increase in output in various crops.
Maize production has increased by 9.7 percent to 2,873,052 metric tonnes (mt) from 2,618,221mt in the 2014/2015 season.
With this level of food production and a carry-over of 667,524mt from the 2014/2015 season, the country will have sufficient food to meet the national requirement as well as a surplus of 634,681mt.
As a result of the good agriculture performance, the prices of food are expected to moderate in the later part of the year.