JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka
TODAY, millions of citizens across the country have woken up to a New Year, and wishing each other a prosperous 2017, but will it be a prosperous year for Zambia?
Yes, says economist Hobby Simuchile, but only if Government successfully implements the economic diversification programme.
And Economics Association of Zambia (EAZ) president Chrispin Mphuka says 2017 looks promising, adding that it may be â€œa turning pointâ€ for the country, which is still recovering from the economic challenges of last year.
Mr Simuchile said the countryâ€™s economic outlook for 2017 depends on the successful implementation of the diversification programme and also if the rains hold up to March.
Government is currently trying to diversify Zambiaâ€™s copper-dependent economy, with a strong focus on agriculture.
Mr Simuchile said measures such as the removal of duty on farm implements and the huge investment to boost cashew nut production will promote crop diversification.
Government, with support of the Africa Development Bank pumped US$55.4 million into the cashew industry recently.
Mr Simuchile, however, said Government must build multi-production milling plants in high-agriculture production areas such as Mbala to encourage farmers to diversify their crops.
â€œWhat will encourage crop diversification is when Government builds multi-production milling plants able to process not only maize, but other crops such as soya beans and sunflower as well,â€ he said.
Mr Simuchile, however, said Government project to install solar milling plants in various parts of the country has not worked very well.
He is of the view that solar milling plants should only be installed in isolated areas that are not connected to the power grid, and where people have no access to processed maize.
Mr Simuchile added that Government must also ensure that no maize is exported to neighbouring countries this year before the Food Reserve Agency buys enough grain to reach the countryâ€™s strategic food reserve threshold of 500,000 metric tonnes.
Mr Simuchile also feels Government must create more farm blocks and build dams for irrigation, as well as create a loan facility for farm implements, in order to promote mechanisation of agriculture, especially among small-scale farmers.
Mr Simuchile also said the drop in inflation is a good sign that 2017 holds better prospects for the country.
Zambia closed the year 2016 on a single-digit inflation, with the graph falling from 18 percent in September, to 7.5 percent as announced by the Central Statistical Office on Wednesday.
And Dr Mphuka said although projections by the World Bank and International Monitory Fund are that the global economic growth in 2017 will remain subdued, this may not have a huge effect on the local economy.
Dr Mphuka said although the prices of copper on the international market are not expected to rebound to figures witnessed in the recent past, the countryâ€™s prospects are still bright because of the improved power output, which may boost production.
In 2016, Zambia faced a number of economic challenges caused by falling metal prices on the international market, plus a huge power deficit which affected production.
Dr Mphuka, however, could not wish Zambia a â€œProsperous New Year.â€
â€œI would not commit to say it will be a prosperous New Year because I will be vague as an economist,â€ he said.
JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka