GOVERNMENT has expressed its desire to diversify the economy away from overdependence on copper.
Agriculture, tourism and manufacturing are among sectors Government wants to promote to fulfil its quest of diversifying the economy.
Agriculture is key to Zambia realising its Vision 2030 of becoming a middle-income nation.
Economic diversification will spawn value addition and industrialisation anchored on agriculture, mining and tourism.
This quest for diversification is enshrined in various policy documents, including the recently launched Seventh National Development Plan.
Economic diversification will facilitate job creation; poverty and vulnerability reduction; reduce developmental inequalities; enhance human development; and create a conducive governance environment and an inclusive economy.
However, Government faces the challenge of actualising the economic diversification agenda because research and development, which are supposed to be the main actors, are acutely under-funded.
Research work is part of the development framework as it provides or supports evidence-based decision-making processes.
In this regard, even in agriculture, funding research work is important, especially when you also want to deal with crop diversification as well as improvements to the existing crops.
Agriculture should move away from the traditional-oriented way of doing business and embody value chain addition.
This is true for the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI), which should be the main driver for up scaling agriculture in the country.
ZARI is the lead agency in researching on the country’s agriculture potential and, therefore, under-funding is undoing efforts to diversify.
ZARI has the expertise to turn around the country’s agricultural fortunes and make it a breadbasket in the region.
The role of researchers at ZARI is to help the country come up with the best for each district and region.
However, it must be discouraging for our agriculture experts to be doing almost nothing because they lack the tools of the trade to move the country’s agro agenda forward.
ZARI experts have also been involved in tackling some of the teething challenges the country has been facing such as the management of post-harvest issues.
Zambia has yet again been hit by pesticides such as armyworms which threaten our food security. ZARI has done enough research and studies to tackle armyworms.
If funded according to its budget, ZARI can do more as Vice-President Inonge Wina learnt during her visit to the institution on Tuesday.
Mrs Wina has since pledged that Government will enhance the capacity of ZARI to fight the outbreak of armyworms so that its research work can benefit peasant farmers.
ZARI director Moses Mwale appealed to Government for more funding to the institution.
Mr Mwale explained that in 2015, ZARI received only four percent of its budget, in 2016 three percent and this year four percent, thereby making it difficult to execute its mandate properly.
The visit to ZARI by the Vice- President is critical because it has highlighted Government’s commitment to the agriculture sector, especially research.
Following her visit, we expect the story of ZARI being under-funded to be a thing of the past.
Research should be one of the key pillars of fulfilling the objectives of the 7NDP.