ANALYSIS: BENEDICT TEMBO
IN ITS quest to boost food security, the Ministry of Agriculture has held talks with some commercial farmers to grow 150,000 tonnes of winter maize.
It is in public domain that commercial farmers always grow winter crop, so it is not a new phenomenon. Commercial banks such as Zanaco have been financing the growing of winter and summer crops for years now.
The initiative by Ministry of Agriculture Permanent Secretary Songowayo Zyambo and his team is indeed commendable.
Mr Zyambo was Zambia National Farmers Union chief executive officer the last time the country attempted to roll out winter maize in 2002.
This followed two consecutive droughts that had devastated the country’s maize crops.
Mr Zyambo’s outreach demonstrates Government’s desire to ensure that the country’s food security remains intact even in the aftermath of the country experiencing erratic rainfall and in some cases, prolonged drought in the 2018-2019 rainy season.
This ultimately affected crop production, especially in the country’s southern parts.
Although details of the meeting are scanty, the incentive to get commercial farmers to start growing winter maize should be the assurance of a ready market for the maize at a very attractive price per metric tonne.
This is because producing winter maize is a very expensive undertaking given the expensive irrigation equipment, the astronomical interest rates in our banks as well as the abnormal electricity tariffs.
With Government in the middle of a food distribution exercise in the affected parts of the country as well as the Food Reserve Agency offloading maize to millers to control the price of mealie meal, which had breached the K100 mark, the country’s food security is fragile.
There is need therefore for Government to play an oversight role by ensuring that maize reserves do not run out, come January next year.
However, my concern is that the Ministry of Agriculture has ended at enticing commercial farmers to mitigate the maize reserves.
Apart from commercial farmers, the Ministry of Agriculture should also engage State institutions such as the Zambia Correctional Service (ZCS) and the Zambia National Service (ZNS), who have a history of contributing to the country’s strategic maize reserves.
ZNS has been cultivating winter wheat in Chanyanya, Kafue in Lusaka Province, Mkushi in Central Province and Lumezi in the Eastern Province. It has now commenced production at Mangango in Kaoma.
On the other hand, ZCS is tilling winter wheat on 45 hectares in Kabwe.
Both ZNS and ZCS are willing to take up the challenge of growing winter maize just like the commercial farmers.
But both institutions may have some limitations, which the Ministry of Agriculture may be interested in hearing and possibly render a helping hand.
ZNS, for instance, may need help to identify maize seed suitable for winter maize, while ZCS maybe short on funds to implement winter maize cultivation.
From the Ministry of Agriculture, both ZNS and ZCS may need engagement or attachment of experts with proven track records of what they intend to achieve.
Both need to be availed with information of proven varieties of seeds suitable for specific areas and periods.
The two institutions need to put in place structures that shall build viable business models and let these units run like profit centres and not mere regimented “obey without question “ military units.
ZNS and ZCS should develop the units into proper centres promoting food security and not just concentration on maize and wheat, but become research centres vying for diversification of food sources and varieties.
It is in the interest of ZNS commandant Lieutenant-General Nathan Mulenga and ZCS commissioner-general Chileshe Chisela to ensure that inputs and equipment are acquired in the mostly timely and efficient manner.
What am I saying?
These activities must be viewed as businesses and not activities to fill the void of time at the hands of military units.
There’s need for investment into the initiative. Money is needed to procure irrigation equipment, drilling boreholes and for operational purposes.
So, Mr Zyambo should not only end at engaging commercial farmers, but also engage his Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Home Affairs counterparts.
ZNS and ZCS have the capacity for winter maize production given the necessary support.
The author is a Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.
ANALYSIS: BENEDICT TEMBO