KELVIN KACHINGWE, Petauke
WITH Petauke being predominantly a rural district, its vision is to have equal access to improved livelihoods for all by 2030.
The main focus for Petauke district, according to its development plan which runs until next year, is road infrastructure development and economic empowerment, especially in agriculture, while emphasis in the social sector is on education and health.
Situated 406 kilometres east of Lusaka and 170 kilometres west of Chipata, Petauke is in the southern part of Eastern Province, sharing an international boundary with Mozambique in the south and district borders with the newly-created Sinda and Mambwe in the north-east, Nyimba in the west and Serenje in Central Province in the north-west.
The district enjoys a tropical climate with an average temperature of about 25 degrees Celsius with a minimum of 12 degrees Celsius while its topography is divided into two distinct areas, namely the valley and the plateau.
The southern and central parts of the district are mostly plateau with an altitude ranging from 750 metres to over 1,000 metres above sea level and covers three quarters of the district. A quarter of the northern part of the district is the valley.
In terms of vegetation, Petauke is predominantly savannah with most forest being found in the northern parts of the plateau and the valley areas. The tree species include mulombe.
However, the people, especially on the plateau, have created extensive deforestation by clearing vegetation for settlement, lumbering, agricultural activities and wood fuel.
For hydrology, Luangwa is the largest river in the district, with five tributaries, namely Mvuvye, Lusangazi, Msanzala, Nyimba and Msumbazi, and runs from the north to the south-west, feeding into the Zambezi River.
Petaukeâ€™s demography consists of a population of about 316,552 including that of Sinda before it became a district on its own in 2012 after taking some wards from Petauke and Katete.
The average annual population growth rate for Petauke is about two percent, which is below the provincial annual rate of close to three percent. However, the district is the third most populated in the province after Chipata and Lundazi.
Its median age, though, is about 17 years, which means that the population is quite young and highly vulnerable to economic pressures of the district.
And like most districts in Eastern Province, it is inhabited by people who practise mixed farming crop production and livestock rearing. The major crops grown are maize, groundnuts and millet.
It is generally envisaged that with good agricultural practices, weather and early delivery of inputs and good crop marketing, the majority of the population is able to improve its livelihood.
The Nsenga people, said to have entered the country from Malawi with Senior Chief Kalindawalo as their leader, are predominantly the owners of the traditional land in Petauke.
Chief Kalindawaloâ€™s subordinate chiefs include Nyanje, Mwanjawantu, Nyamphande, Sandwe and Mumbi. The Nsenga hold the annual Tuwimba traditional ceremony to celebrate good harvest and offer sacrifice to the gods for future prospects of good health and more rainfall.
However, there are other tribes which are predominant in the district such as the Lungu and Chewa while townships are generally cosmopolitan.
The major settlements in Petauke, whose constituencies are Petauke Central, Msanzala and Kapoche, which it shares with Sinda, are concentrated on the plateau, which covers the central and southern parts of the district.
Generally, villages on the plateau have more households than those in the valley. The plateau boasts of relatively fertile soils, though overtime, the fertility levels are declining.
Further, there is a concentration of settlements on the eastern part of the valley, where Ukwimi Resettlement Scheme is situated. The other contributing factor for much concentration is relative ease in accessing social services such as education, health and water.
The economic physical infrastructure such as the road network is another important factor in determining the settlement pattern. The villages are concentrated along the roads, particularly the feeder roads. Notable areas of concentration include Minga, Ukwimi and Kalindawalo. Most of the valley area has scanty settlements as it is in the game management area and is also very hilly despite having good soils.
Petauke has a fairly well developed infrastructure although it is not adequate to meet all of its educational needs. Most of its schools lack basic materials, equipment and staff.
However, the existence of the infrastructure operational plan has been of great assistance to the district in terms of provision of education infrastructure.
On the health front, the same challenges found in education are also faced. The sector has 32 health centres including two first-level hospitals, Minga Mission Hospital and Petauke District Hospital. There are a number of non-governmental organisations active in this area such as World Vision, Care International and Red Cross.
A number of developmental projects have recently been undertaken in the district, especially on the economic front.
Otherwise, Petauke is one of the major groundnut-growing districts in the province, and according to district commissioner Velenasi Banda, there are many opportunities in the value chain developments.
â€œThe main value chain actors are the smallholder farmers, Department of Agriculture and COMACO. Notable value-added products of groundnuts include peanut butter, cooking oil and groundnut-flavoured snacks for sale to open markets, local retail shops and supermarkets.
â€œThere is also value addition to sunflower which brings about products such as cooking oil and cake for feed,â€ Ms Banda says.
KELVIN KACHINGWE, Petauke