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Time to tackle agro bottlenecks

AGRICULTURE holds the country’s promise for economic diversification.
This is true because Zambia is endowed with huge tracts of fertile land, just as the country still has over 60 percent of uncultivated arable land left.
This is evidence of the huge potential this country has in agriculture.

This is why Government has placed emphasis on agriculture to play a significant role in economic diversification by shifting from the over-dependence on copper and other minerals.

Pronouncements by Government represent this policy shift.
However, bureaucracy stands in the way of actualising the huge potential this country possesses to become the food basket of the continent.
Unlocking that potential must start with the Ministry of Agriculture ensuring that policy is actualised by ensuring that among others, farming inputs are distributed to farmers in good time.
The Ministry of Agriculture, in liaison with the Food Reserve Agency (FRA), should also be proactive in ensuring that farmers are paid for their produce in good time.
It is good that Government has provided K1,700 to each of the eligible farmer, but these small-scale food producers need K400 counterpart funding to activate their e-voucher cards.
Some have already done so. That is good too, but there are some who are awaiting payment for the produce of the 2016-2017 season so that they can re-invest the money for the 2017-2018 season.
Some of these farmers who are yet to receive their payments for the maize and other crops they have supplied to the FRA cannot activate their electronic vouchers. As few as they may be, comparatively, they are key stakeholders in the bigger and collective picture or goal for a bumper harvest.
This is the reason the Ministry of Agriculture should ensure that the FRA prioritises the payment of farmers for the produce supplied.
The introduction of e-vouchers is one of the best decisions Government has made to grow the agriculture sector. This has already helped to eliminate middle men and curtail corruption in the agricultural chain.
However, there is need for more sensitisation regarding the benefits of e-vouchers to ensure that all eligible farmers appreciate the system and come on board.
Everything being equal, farmers should have had inputs by the time President Lungu was launching the planting season on Thursday.
President Lungu, upon realising that some farm inputs have not been distributed, directed Minister of Agriculture Dora Siliya to ensure that the farmers’ e-voucher cards are activated forthwith, to enable farmers access farm inputs.
President Lungu has also directed Ms Siliya to ensure farm inputs for this season are distributed on time.
The President wants to see the distribution of farm inputs expedited.
Support to small-scale farmers cannot, however, be in perpetuity. Farmers must graduate and become self-sustaining. This has, however, been difficulty for many farmers because they do not have the prerequisite farming skills to maximise available resources which include farm inputs like seed, fertiliser and pest control chemicals.
Thankfully, Government will be recruiting 700 extension officers to add to the hundreds already in employment. These agriculture experts must take this challenge seriously and help the farmers not only succeed this season but more importantly to empower them with skills that will wean them off Government perennial support.
It is about time too that more mechanised farming got entrenched in Zambia’s agriculture sector at all levels. There is no reason why, for instance, each agriculture cooperative, should not have a tractor and its support implements.
With Government enticing more investors in the sector, including producers of tractors, Zambia should sooner rather than later be reaping the fruits of its pragmatic decisions in agriculture.