PATSON PHIRI, Lusaka
ZAMBIA has formulated a new national agriculture policy that will drive rural poverty reduction and breathe life into the economy following the expiry of the old policy in 2015.
This is one of the many front-line tools President Lunguâ€™s Government is inducing apart from boosting copper production, recasting relations with the International Monetary Fund, increased mining production and mine audits to boost national revenue and industrialisation to help rework the economy.
The new policy was recently released to the public by Ministry of Agriculture permanent secretary Julius Shawa and his Fisheries and Livestock counterpart David Shamulenge.
The policy seeks to make Zambia an authority in cereal production, taking advantage of the unprecedented wealth conducive for crop production.
Zambiaâ€™s total land area is 75 million hectares (752,614 km2), of which 58 percent (42 million hectares) is classified as medium to high potential for agricultural production, with rainfall ranging between 800 mm to 1,400 mm annually.
This is suitable for the production of a broad range of crops, fish, and livestock. Available statistics indicate that 14 percent of total agricultural land is being utilised in Zambia.
Although this percentage has increased over the years, there is still a lot of agricultural land which is not utilised. With an estimated 42 percent of the land mass suitable for livestock production, the livestock sub-sector has potential to increase its contribution to economic growth.
It is estimated that Zambia has 40 percent of the underground and surface water resources in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, thereby offering huge opportunities for fish farming, livestock production and irrigated agriculture.
The country is estimated to be receiving 160 billion cubic metres of rain water annually but only utilises 60 billion cubic metres while 100 billion cubic metres is lost.
In addition, estimates suggest that Zambia is currently only utilising 155,912 hectares, out of the potential 2.75 million hectares available for irrigation.
The rationale for the second national agriculture policy is to provide a conducive environment that will stimulate sustainable agricultural development.
The over riding objective of the policy is to accelerate reduction of nutrition insecurity, poverty, increase agriculture sector growth and employment.
The Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock will take a leading role in facilitating, coordinating, regulating, monitoring and evaluating the policy going forward.
Meanwhile, Dr Shawa said the policy has a face of school children because it empowers farmers to supply more cereal crops to schools and promote the concept of the school feeding programme.
This is a new programme that has been supported by the government and its development partners such as the European Union, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and UNICEF.
The Ministry of General Education believes poverty in rural areas is the cause behind the reduced enrolment by pupils as parents redirect their children to economic ventures.
Ministry of General Education permanent secretary Henry Tukombe said his ministry is behind the new policy following an initial pilot project where 38 schools have had their enrolment figures go up tremendously after the introduction of the school feeding programme. The food is supplied to schools by local subsistence farmers.
â€œChildren from well to do families at least carry a snack to eat at break and lunch times. Children from poor households however do not have this luxury,â€ Mr Tukombe said.
The fact that the new policy has considered the plight of children makes it easier for government to exert its muscle on its pro-poor policies.
The policy recognises the strong influence of partnerships with farming communities, input suppliers, traders, agro-industry, financial institutions, civil society organisations, development partners and Regional Economic Communities (RECs).
RECs are institutions such as SADC, East African Community and the Common Market for East and Southern Africa that should continue to roll out resources for agriculture development.
The African Union, World Food Programme, FAO, Zambia National Farmers Union, Agriculture Sector Advisory Group, and Agricultural Consultative Forum also have spaces in the new national agriculture policy.
The implementation of the policy will be monitored and evaluated by the ministries responsible for agriculture, livestock and fisheries in partnership with the Ministry of Finance, development partners and other stakeholders.
This will involve the establishment of agreed base-line benchmarks and sector indicators by the ministry in collaboration with other key stakeholders.
In the implementation of the new policy, the government will continue mobilising resources with the support of development partners and other stakeholders for implementation.
The government annual budget, private sector investment and development partners will be responsible for financing the new document.
The governmentâ€™s vision in the new policy will be attained through strengthening the policy, legal and regulatory framework.
The national agriculture policy, implemented from 2004 to 2015, had to be reviewed with particular attention to the concerns raised by various stakeholders regarding its failure to increase rural incomes and reduce poverty.
The previous policy also failed to achieve inclusive growth, and faced the perpetual agricultural financing and marketing challenges apart from climate change associated with erratic rainfall patterns.
The change of government in 2011 also necessitated new policy guidelines that are in line with the government of the day.
Governments have identified the agriculture sector as the key driver of the economy in order to supplement mining which has been the largest contributor of foreign exchange earnings and national revenue.
The country has enormous potential to expand agricultural production due to the vast resource endowment in terms of land, water, climate and labour.
Economists estimate that approximately 10 percent of the countryâ€™s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and at least 70 percent of the population is dependent on agriculture.
The sector absorbs about 67 percent of the labour force and remains the main source of income and employment for both females and males, whose population in 2015 was 7,818,236 and 7,655,669, respectively.
PATSON PHIRI, Lusaka