THE agriculture sector continues to be the backbone of the Zambian economy, contributing about 35 percent of the countryâ€™s total non-traditional exports and about 10 percent of the total export earnings.
Government is alive to the fact that the sector is key to the economic transformation owing to its contribution to job export revenue and job creation and has since developed well-articulated agricultural policies and strategies, which emphasise objectives such as the realisation of food security, maximising farmersâ€™ incomes, promoting sustainable agriculture, and enhancing private sector roles in input and output markets.
Agricultural diversification also remains top on the agenda as demonstrated by the inclusion of other food crops seeds such as cassava, sorghum, millet, sweet potatoes, beans and groundnuts under the farmer input support programme (FISP).
To further ensure the sector enhances crop production, income generation and economic diversification, Minister of Finance Alexander Chikwanda, in his 2016 National Budget speech presented to Parliament last October said, â€œGovernment will redouble its efforts to expand and develop the agriculture sector by investing in the development of irrigation this year and beyond, with an investment of over K56 million to irrigation programmes.
â€œWe must as a matter of urgency promote the diversification of the agriculture sector to fully maximise its potentialâ€¦It is in this regard that Government will expedite implementation of activities under the Irrigation Development Support Programme to bring a further 5,000 hectares under irrigation in 2016. The increased output from the expanded area under irrigation will enhance national food security and economic diversification,â€ Mr Chikwanda said.
Minister of Agriculture Given Lubinda also said interventions such as strong market linkages for maize and other cash crops have significantly contributed to agricultural diversification, a positive development that will not only enhance food availability in Zambia, but also in the region.
Mr Lubinda said crop diversification, once fully maximised, will contribute to wealth creation and boost peopleâ€™s livelihood with value addition to other crops that have the potential to generate income and stimulate to economic development.
â€œMaize is one of the major crops grown in Zambia, but we want other crops to be recognised as well. This will enhance food security in the continent as well as the country. This is in line with Governmentâ€™s vision of making Zambia the food basket of the region,â€ he said.
Government is also investing in research to further develop the agriculture sector by utilising and identifying other potential sub-sectors.
Mr Lubinda also said it is critical for private sector players to invest more and exploit farming opportunities.
He said Zambia is among the many African countries with vast potential in the agriculture sector.
With under-exploited natural resources, Zambia is a potentially wealthy country which should develop the industry based on local raw materials to address the various challenges affecting the development of agriculture through private sector partnerships.
â€œAs Government we believe that the private sector should play a leading role through increasing primary production and exploiting the provision of agri-business services for value addition and supply of other goods and services to the sector.â€
Similarly, in an effort to maximise agricultural potential and promote economic diversification to agriculture from mining, President Lungu split the Ministry from the â€˜Ministry of Agriculture and Livestockâ€™ to Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries.
President Lungu said the separation of the ministries will enable Government carry out its mandateÂ of promoting economic diversification effectively, as well as help develop the livestock and fisheries sectors following the allocation of K5 million to provide credit to small-scale fish farmers for the establishment of the Fisheries Development Fund in the country.
Government in the 2016 budget has allocated K1.0 billion for theÂ FISP of whichÂ K248.3 million willÂ be disbursed throughÂ the E-voucherÂ scheme to cover about 480,000 farmers of the targeted 1,000,000 beneficiaries.
Owing to the critical role the agriculture sector plays to the prosperity of Zambia, Government should continue to work with the private sector as it is the only alternative market for farmers.
It is also evident that for the economy to prosper, Government should show commitment by supporting the expansion and diversification of an economy through creating a conducive environment that attracts investor confidence and private sector participation in key developmental programmes aimed at attractingÂ foreign direct investment, job creation and poverty reduction through increased agriculture productivity.