Analysis: EMELDA MUSONDA
IN SPEECH during the official opening of the second session of the 12th National Assembly President Lungu did not mince his words on Government’s resolute to diversify from an economy mainly dependent on mining to depend heavily on agriculture.
President Lungu stressed that this is an agenda that must be achieved against all odds.
This is evidence that Government is alive to the potential that lies in agriculture especially for a country like ours which is endowed with vast tracts of arable land and good climatic conditions.
It is also evident that lessons were learnt during the economic downturn the country suffered two years ago after copper prices nosedived due to waned demand from China the major importer of the commodity. In 2015 copper prices reduced by 20 percent.
This led to reduced production and foreign exchange earnings.
As a consequence our currency was knocked to its knees as it could not stand against other major convertibles like the US dollar. For instance in 2015 we had one dollar costing K14.
The effects on the general populace were undesirable as the cost of doing business and living skyrocketed. Many Jobs were also lost in mining companies.
I therefore agree with President Lungu that whatever needs to be done to turn agriculture into the engine of our economy must be done regardless of the cost or huddles involved.
It is either we make agriculture work for us or continue being at the mercy of unpredictable international market forces. If we continue relying on copper as our major forex earner we risk going through a vicious cycle of economic depression as was the case in 2015. As things stand copper accounts for 70 percent of our foreign earnings.
Time has indeed come for us to change strategy by boosting agriculture which offers not only food security but also a much more reliable source of foreign exchange as long as the right amount of investment is injected to ensure good production throughout the year.
It is therefore heartening to learn that the country is making steady progress in that direction as pointed out by President Lungu during his address to the National Assembly last Friday.
The head of state mentioned that Government has already kick-started the process of diversifying to agriculture by enhancing investment in agricultural infrastructure, mechanisation, agricultural value chains, crop and livestock diversification and increasing access to finance for production and exports as well as promoting small scale agriculture.
To enhance mechanisation in agriculture production, the President said Government is facilitating the construction of a tractor assembly plant by Ursus, a leading European manufacturer of tractors. The construction which will start in 2018 and is expected to create 700 direct jobs and reduce the price of tractors and agricultural equipment by 20 percent.
President Lungu said as a way of accelerating production and productivity, Government is increasing the area under irrigation, expanding hectarage under cultivation and increasing the number of people involved in farming adding that these initiatives are being augmented by enhanced extension services.
“I am pleased to inform this august house that during the 2016/2017 farming season, Government and the private sector managed to bring on board an additional 8,000 hectares of land under irrigation. This has increased the total area under irrigation from 192,000 hectares in the 2015/2016 farming season to 200,000 hectares in the 2016/2017 season,” he said.
To encourage public service workers to engage in farming bes ides their formal jobs Government is providing access to agro-equipment through the public service micro-finance company. Eighty public service workers have benefited so far.
Government also realises that there is more value in value addition. Actually countries that have developed are those that have embraced value addition. It is for this reason that Government is supporting a number of pipeline projects to be delivered in the next two years. These include establishment of a mango processing facility in Eastern Province; Investment in a palm oil plantation and palm oil processing plant in Luapula Province; investment in a cashew nut project in Western Province and re-establishment of a pineapple processing facility in North-Western Province.
As a way of diversifying from mono cropping, the President alluded to the fact that Government is using the e-voucher system to support crop diversification as well as the livestock and fisheries sector. The e-voucher system is also aimed at ensuring proper targeting of beneficiaries, efficient use of resources, increased private sector participation in the supply of inputs as well as giving choices to the farmers for various farm inputs. This is indeed inevitable if we are to get optimum results from initiatives such as the Farmer Input Support Programme.
It is also commendable that the e-voucher system that was piloted in 39 districts will now be rolled out to the rest of the country before the start of the 2017/2018 farming season, targeting one million beneficiaries according to the President during his National Assembly address.
President Lungu also highlighted Government’s efforts in developing the livestock sector. He said Government is building modern infrastructure for livestock breeding, milk collection and satellite artificial insemination service centres. It is inspiring to note that 16 livestock breeding centres have been built across the country so far and out of these, four are already offloading improved breeding stock to eligible beneficiaries.
The aquaculture sector has had its fair share of development with 17 Government and 11 community-based fingerling production centres established across the country.
These measures and many others have already started bearing fruit as evidenced by the increase in fish production from 22,713 metric tonnes in 2015 to 27,658 metric tonnes in 2016, representing a 22 percent increase. By mid this year, fish production had increased to 34,573 metric tonnes.
Given the political commitment and measures put in place it is clear that the country is headed for an agro based economy.
However, there is need for all stakeholders to rally behind this vision which borders on our economic sustainability and prosperity.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.