MAYENGO NYIRENDA, Chipata
EASTERN Province is on the path for socio-economic development to keep pace with Zambia’s aspiration to become a middle income and prosperous country by 2030.
It’s economic breakthrough is being propelled by its potential in the production of cash crops such as cotton, sunflower, tobacco, groundnuts and maize among others.
Eastern Province Minister Makebi Zulu says the region’s economic wheels have kept on turning for the good of the 1,592,661 people who make up 12.16 percent of the Zambian population.
This is a region which has an area of 51,476 km2 (19,875 sq. mi), and shares borders with 14 districts.
The province accounts for 19.6 percent of the total agricultural production in Zambia, with sunflower being the major cash crop for the area.
Mr Zulu says President Edgar Lungu’s call for economic diversification from mining to agriculture is timely.
Eastern Province, an agro-based economy, has seen the number of districts on the e-voucher programme increase from three in 2016 to nine in 2017. There are 14 districts in the province.
This means that the number of beneficiaries has increased from 103,288 in 2016 to 187,397 in 2017.
During the last farming season, 161, 923 farmers were able to access farm inputs using the e-voucher system after depositing K400 each to activate their accounts.
The province has great potential not only in crop production, but livestock and poultry farming.
To boost livestock farming in Eastern Province, the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock is constructing four livestock service centres in Chipata, Lundazi, Chadiza and Vubwi districts.
The Chipata livestock centre is about 80 percent complete, while construction of similar facilities in three other districts awaits government funding.
In addition, two livestock artificial insemination centres are being constructed in Chipata and Lundazi and 50 percent of the work has already been done.
In terms of dip tanks for animals, 44 out of the targeted 61 have been refurbished. Four livestock market centres have also been rehabilitated.
Mr Zulu observed that the livestock sector in Eastern Province is thriving but needs to employ untapped potential to graduate from feeding the nation to catering for the export market.
For example, the Saudi Arabia market demands 7,000 goats and sheep per month but local farmers cannot meet that demand.
The current goat population in Eastern Province is estimated at 280,000, which is inadequate to sustain the demand from Saudi Arabia.
To boost goat and sheep production for commercial purposes, a task force comprising representatives of the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock and the private sector in the region has been constituted.
For the agriculture sector to flourish, the province needs a good road network.
To that effect, Government is upgrading 120km of the Chipata-Vubwi-Chadiza road and 150 km of the Chadiza-Chanida-Katete road.
However, the projects are lagging behind due to issues of funding.
The situation is similar on 56km of the Lundazi-Chama road and 117km of the Chisengu-Nabwalya road which are being rehabilitated.
However, progress has been made on the upgrading of urban roads with 48km out of the targeted 102Km so far done in the province.
The provincial minister said all pending road projects will be completed, though behind schedule, to interlink the region to other parts of the country, thereby facilitating the transportation of goods and services.
The provincial administration is also working at investing in housing development.
The constructing of 30 low cost houses and 60 medium cost houses in Vubwi, Sinda and Nyimba districts respectively is still on going. This means that each of these districts will get 90 new houses.
The growing population in the area demands enhanced security to protect 1,592,661 people and their property.
Government is alive to this fact and modern police stations in Chadiza and Sinda districts are under construction.
Other infrastructure development projects in the region include the construction of three district administration office blocks in Nyimba, Vubwi and Sinda.
In addition, the construction of civic centres in Vubwi and Sinda is on-going with 40 percent of the work having been done.
In its quest to take health services to the people, the government has opened 41 out of 57 health posts in Eastern Province.
Other notable projects are the completion of phase one of Chipata District Hospital.
The construction of Vubwi District Hospital is still going on, and the project is scheduled to be completed this year, with 80 percent of construction work already done.
New district hospitals in Nyimba, Chipata, Petauke and Lundazi are under construction, among other projects in the health sector.
In addition, Government built and opened an eye clinic at Chipata Central hospital last year.
The education sector, which plays a pivotal role in the development of human capital, has not been left out in the massive construction projects being implemented in Eastern Province.
To address limited secondary school places, boarding and day secondary schools are under construction in the region.
Four boarding schools – Kacholola in Nyimba, Kasenengwa in Kasenengwa district, Nyamphande in Petauke and Eastern Girls in Kasenengwa have been built are currently in use.
Another four boarding schools called Vubwi, Chiware in Sinda, Chasefu and Mumbi in Petauke are being built.
The construction of Petauke Technical Boarding School is 98 percent complete and the project is expected to be completed this year.
Similarly, three day- secondary schools – Visimumba in Nyimba, Mtumbata in Petauke and Kapoche in Kapoche district – have been built and have since been opened.
Eastern Province Permanent Secretary Chanda Kasolo says they will ensure that stalled projects are completed before embarking on new ones, as directed by President Edgar Lungu.
“We will ensure that all the projects we started in the province are completed before we start new ones, as per presidential directive,” Mr Kasolo said.
With these developments, there is no doubt that Eastern Province is keeping in tandem with Zambia’s dream to become a middle-income and prosperous nation.
MAYENGO NYIRENDA, Chipata