NKOMBO KACHEMBA, Luwingu
WITH a favourable rainfall pattern and fertile soils, Luwingu in Northern Province has immense potential to become Zambiaâ€™s food basket if farming is mechanised and farmers use draft-animal power to cultivate their fields.
Draft-animal power is the use of oxen, with a yoke resting on the back of an animal, where a plough used to till the land is attached.
The use of traditional farming methods has hindered the growth of the agriculture sector in Luwingu, which has no commercial farmers but only emergent and subsistence ones.
Farmers in the district rely on holes to till the land and buckets to irrigate their crops, thus cultivating only small portions of land.
However, despite its use of traditional farming methods, the district has continued to record success in the agriculture sector with farmers achieving huge crop yields in beans, maize, cassava and rice.
Luwingu is also known for good yields of beans, which farmers sell to traders from the Copperbelt Province and the surrounding areas.
Luwingu is a perfect place for Government to set up well mechanised farm blocks to realise the agenda of diversifying the economy from mining to agricultural production.
The district only has one farm block called Masonde, which was established in 1995, but it has remained under-utilised because of the traditional farming methods being used by the farmers.
Local farmers are interested to venture into farming on a large scale, but they lack resources to procure machinery or animals for tilling the land. This continues to be the districtâ€™s major hindrance.
Pascalina Chanda, a farmer in Menga area, explained how difficult it is to till the land using a hole, especially when the soils are hard and rocky.
â€œWhen it comes to cultivating our fields, we usually take a lot of time because we have to use holes to till the land. Sometimes, we even delay to plant the seeds,â€ Ms Chanda said.
She appealed to Government to empower farmers in Luwingu with farming equipment so that they could improve their hectarage in crop cultivation.
Ms Chanda said most of the people in Luwingu are emergent farmers, who do not have the capacity to buy farm equipment or oxen to cultivate their fields.
She said those that have cattle do not use the animals for cultivating their land but instead keep them for home consumption and at times, opt to sell them to raise school fees for their children.
Ms Chanda has been a farmer her entire life and grows beans, maize and groundnuts, which she sells to traders at the central business district of Luwingu.
She said the people of Luwingu have a passion for farming, but lack of resources to buy farm equipment to venture into serious farming continues to hamper their aspirations of producing more maize for export.
More people in Luwingu are now venturing into farming and are abandoning fishing due to the depleted fish stocks in water bodies.
The district currently has 92 farmer co-operatives and 19,609 beneficiaries under the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP).
Another farmer, Leya Kafololo of Chief Chipaloâ€™s chiefdom, narrates how difficult it is for the farmers in the district to venture into commercial farming.
â€œWe do not have commercial farmers here in Luwingu due to lack of resources to venture into mechanised farming,â€ Ms Kafololo said.
With the use of traditional farming methods, Ms Kafololo can afford to harvest three bags of beans and 20 bags of maize, which she sells to traders who come from the Copperbelt and surrounding areas.
She says the farmers in the district have potential to cultivate huge portions of land if empowered with funds to buy cattle so that they could use draft-animal power to cultivate their land.
Ms Kafololo said the land in Luwingu is being under-utilised because the farmers only cultivate small portions of land.
And Bwalya Mufola of Nsombo village in Chief Chabulaâ€™s area said farming is a lucrative venture, which can greatly help to improve the lives of the people in Luwingu.
Mr Mufola said Luwingu has vast land, but people only cultivate small portions of land due to poor methods of farming.
â€œIf we can be empowered with machinery such as tiller trucks, we can greatly improve on our farming. We also need cattle, which we can use as an alternative to machinery,â€ Mr Bwalya said.
Meanwhile, Luwingu agriculture co-ordinator Sekanayo Ngâ€™ambi explained that Masonde farm block is not being fully utilised due to the use of traditional farming methods by the farmers who have occupied it.
Ms Ngâ€™ambi said the farm block is about 19,796 hectares and there are more than 200 farmers who have occupied the area.
â€œOur farm block is being under-utilised because our farmers lack the capacity to venture into farming on a large-scale basis. Most farmers in the farm block can only manage to cultivate a small portion of land due to lack of farming equipment,â€ she said.
Ms Ngâ€™ambi also said most farmers do not use draft-animal power to till their land but rather depend on holes to cultivate their fields.
She, however, said plans are underway to establish another farm block, which will be about 100,000 hectares in size, where Government intends to give huge portions of land to commercial farmers to enhance national food security.
Ms Ngâ€™ambi said the new farm block, which will be established will be equipped with high-tech implements of farming.
She said there is great potential for the growth of the agriculture sector in Luwingu because the district is endowed with plenty of virgin land and a favourable rainfall pattern.
Ms Ngâ€™ambi said despite the use of traditional farming methods, maize production in the district keeps on improving.
She said the district produced 343,200 bags of maize during the 2015-2016 farming season from the 292,477 harvested in the preceding 2013-2014 season.
She said the market for the farm produce in Luwingu is readily available because traders come from as far as the Copperbelt Province to buy beans and other farm produce.
Ms Ngâ€™ambi said Government, in partnership with various stakeholders, is teaching farmers how to market their produce and maximise profits from their farming ventures.
However, her office faces challenges in monitoring some of the farming activities in the district due to lack of transport and erratic funding to the department.
And Luwingu district commissioner Patrick Chanda said Government has bought two tractors for the farmers in the district.
Mr Chanda said the aim is to empower farmers with equipment so that they double their production cultivation.
â€œWe have two tractors that we are yet to give to our farmers. The challenge that we have is that we have to identify the co-operatives to give this farming equipment to,â€ he said.
With more funding allocated to the agriculture sector in the 2017 national budget, it is hoped that some of the resources will be channelled towards supporting individual farmers countrywide to enable them procure farming equipment.
NKOMBO KACHEMBA, Luwingu