KELVIN MBEWE, Lusaka
FOR many years, Zambiaâ€™s economy has been dependent on copper as the major source of income.
This will soon be a thing of the past following the commitment by government to boost agriculture and make it a major income earner in the country.
This is known as diversification.
In simpler terms it can be described as the opposite of putting your eggs in one basket.
The current government has put in place initiatives that will make Zambia a food basket for Southern Africa.
Among the initiatives is the early distribution of the farmer input support programme (FISP).
FISP is a government initiative to assist local farmerâ€™s capacity to increase their yields by providing them with farm inputs such as seed and fertilisersâ€™ at a subsidised price.
Second is the increase in the maize floor price from K75 to K85.
The introduction of solar milling plants is yet another milestone in making agriculture a viable sector of the economy.
According to Zambia Co-operatives Federation (ZCF) director general Charles Chirwa, 2,000 solar-powered milling machines have been purchased to ensure that Zambians enjoy cheaper mealie-meal.
And Mr Chirwa said one solar-powered milling machine costs a total of U$70,000.
Such an investment can only come from a caring government with a vision to reduce poverty, create jobs and empower both subsistent and commercial farmers.
To cushion the demand of farm inputs by farmers, government injected over K25 million to revamp the Nitrogen Chemicals of Zambia (NCZ).
Due to the effects of climate change which is affecting agriculture worldwide, government in partnership with the private sector has invested in sensitisation of farmers in climate-smart agriculture practices.
These, among other initiatives, will enhance Zambiaâ€™s agriculture performance and empower many people.
Most people only see and appreciate the roads, schools, hospitals and so forth that the government has built but not many think about the commitment and effort that it has directed towards the agriculture sector, which if tapped has the potential to transform the economy.
President Edgar Lungu has on several occasions said he intends to preside over an economy that is diversified.
He has directed the Ministers of Agriculture and Livestock to devise strategies of enhancing food production in the country.
In this way, Government has embarked on the right track to ensure that this dream is realised.
The increase in the beneficiaries of FISP from one million beneficiaries to 1,162 572 farmers is a clear indication that government wants to bring a lot of farmers on board.
It has been estimated that the increase in beneficiaries will require an additional K42 million kwacha for surplus maize seed and K11million Kwacha for moving the inputs across the country funds which the Ministry of Finance has committed itself to releasing.
An addition to the increase in the number of beneficiaries of FISP is its early distribution.
While most parts of the country are enjoying the electronic voucher system, a few are still on the conventional distribution system.
In places were conventional system is still active urea fertiliser has already been distributed courtesy of Neria investment limited. This is in readiness for the 2016/2017 farming season.
Neria Investment has been to some parts of the eastern province, Muchinga, and Northern Province to witness the availability of urea in these places.
Neria Investment General manager Martin Chaikatisha drove from Lusaka to Mafinga, Shiwangandu, Chilubi main land and he was happy to find the urea in all the areas.
The early distribution of FISP has cheered stakeholders (chiefs, farmers) and has been described as a milestone in achieving food security.
Paramount chief Chitimukulu of the Bemba people of Northern Province said the early distribution of farm inputs will also result in poverty reduction and job creation.
â€œAccording to the World Bank, 26 percent of people in Zambia are self-employed in the agricultural sector. If these are empowered with fertiliser, it means jobs are being created and poverty levels are going to be reduced. Therefore, the government has done well to commence the distribution of inputs early. As you are aware that Northern Province has very good rainfall and therefore our farmers will not have an excuse for not having good yields,â€ he said
And Paramount chief Mpezeni of the Ngoni people of Eastern Province has added his voice in commending the early distribution of farming inputs.
He said government has heard the cry of farmers.
Chief Mpezeni said farmers will no longer have an excuse for low yields in the upcoming farming season.
The fruits of these efforts will make Zambia a food basket of southern Africa, but most importantly Zambia will continue to be food secure and as they say a healthy nation is indeed a productive nation.
KELVIN MBEWE, Lusaka