Editor's Comment

Farmers deserve more

PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu (centre) visiting a demonstration field with Minister of Agriculture Michael Katambo (left) during the 2019 Agritech Expo at GART Research Centre in Chisamba yesterday. PICTURE: COLLINS PHIRI

ZAMBIAN farmers are undoubtedly hard workers.
Given their hard work, it is possible for these farmers – both subsistence and commercial – to increase maize production to meet both the domestic and export markets.
It is also feasible for small-scale farmers to increase the maize yield per hectare from the current one to two tonnes per hectare.
However, they face unique challenges such as delayed delivery of farming inputs, attacks by pests and diseases, including delayed payment of their produce by the Ministry of Finance through the Food Reserve Agency (FRA).
Some farmers who supplied maize to FRA last year are yet to receive their payment and are stranded because it is their sole or major source of revenue.
It is a pity these challenges have persisted.
President Edgar Lungu has, therefore, done well to acknowledge the bottlenecks faced by farmers in producing maize and other crops.
Addressing delegates at the ongoing Agritech Expo in Chisamba yesterday, President Lungu has said there is urgent need to ensure that for the 2019- 2020 season, inputs should be delivered before the onset of rains under the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP).
The President has also directed the Ministry of Finance to make resources available in time for purchasing the produce from the farmers as well as ensuring that those that are still owed by FRA should be paid soonest.
Beyond the delayed inputs and payment lies climate change and pests/diseases, which undermine farmers’ determination to maximise production.
Agricultural research stations should work with seed-manufacturing companies to come up with products which will help farmers overcome climate change, pests and diseases.
There is need to intensify research and develop seeds which are resistant to pests and disease infestation while promoting climate-resilient agricultural practices, especially in light of effects of climate change.
Zambia has already been zoned according to the rainfall patterns but the poor rainfall during the 2018-2019 season seems to suggest that there is more to be done.
Despite the poor rains, farmers exhibited resilience in the just-ended agriculture season.
However, the prolonged dry spell has greatly affected some parts of the country, especially in the southern half.
This means that the country’s bread basket is slowly shifting from the south to the eastern and northern parts.
These regions should rise to the occasion in their new status as the food basket of the country.
They should take advantage of the conducive weather to not only produce enough to feed the rest of the country but for export as well.
Researchers have a huge role in ensuring that the diversification of the sector from its current status to a commercialisation is realised, including fully exploring its potential for export.
There is a huge demand for agricultural food products, both processed and raw, at domestic and regional levels, and beyond which the country should take advantage of.
Time to leverage this opportunity by increasing production of a wide range of food products for agricultural trade is now.
We hope that technocrats in the Ministry of Agriculture and the Zambia National Farmers Union have taken note of the Presidential address at the Agritech Expo.
They should start implementing his directives like yesterday so that the agricultural sector is transformed into a dynamic, commercial and sustainable sector, capable of meeting the aspirations of Zambians.

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