FOR a long time, most programmes aimed at improving farming in the country have focused on maize production.
Indeed, the crop is Zambia’s staple food and many people only acknowledge that they have eaten something when they have had nshima for a meal.
However, several stakeholders have been advocating diversification in the agriculture sector, particularly in regard to food crop production, with emphasis on nutritional benefits provided by different crops and their products.
Climate change has also taught humanity a lesson that in agricultural production, just like in many other sectors, there must be a shift with regard to cropping systems if people’s nutritional needs are to be fully sustained.
That is why Government and all agricultural stakeholders have been urging farmers in the country to take practical measures to diversify into different crops.
This year’s rainfall pattern has negatively affected most of the southern African region. In those areas where there have been persistent dry spells, farmers will not harvest as much as they did last year or even in 2016.
The maize crop, which is normally rain-fed, has withered in most farms around the country.
It is because of such phenomena that, while various organisations are coming on board to supplement Government’s efforts through programmes that will enable farmers to have access to flexible loans so that they can acquire new farm implements, as well as establishing irrigation systems, drought-resistant crops such as sorghum, millet and cassava should be promoted.
These, besides rice, soya beans and groundnuts, can truly serve as alternative crops to maize. Serious investment should be undertaken with a view to feeding the nation and empowering local farmers economically.
This was President Edgar Lungu’s message to farmers when he was in Chisamba on Wednesday: “Going by what we have experienced [drought this year], it is time we took stock, whether maize should be the ultimate crop for survival as a people.”
With effects of climate change intensifying, the survival of the nation depends on how cereal and legume crop production is tailored to positively impact not only on nutrition, but also on household incomes (particularly in rural areas and farms) and the country’s food security.
Since farmers are in business, Government is expected to get involved in the diversification process by ensuring that farm produce does not go to waste.
For example, it should work on roads that pose as a challenge against farmers with regard to accessing markets for their crops.
Also, currently the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) mainly focuses on promoting maize production, plus one or two other crops. But it is just inevitable that FISP also incorporates all crops that must add value to people’s well-being and the economy.
While we commend different organisations concerned with food and nutrition for engaging in campaigns aimed at educating people in both rural and urban areas on the need to have balanced foods, we urge the private sector to help fight malnutrition through providing farmers with incentives that will make it easy for them to diversify.
Once the current ‘nshima dependency’ is dealt with, through cereal and legume intercrops diversification on farms, Zambia is assured of the desired food security as there will be less risk to crop failure. Abundance of various foods will, in turn, lead to affordable prices.
Only if we embrace various crops other than maize and invest heavily in every aspect relating to diversification can we truly realise our dream of becoming a healthy and prosperous nation.