Analysis: BONIFACE SUSA
WITH the rainy season around the corner, many farmers have started preparing for the next farming season. Quite often, a farmer is usually preoccupied with how and where he is going to buy agricultural inputs.
For a farmer who produces crops, he needs quality seeds to record a good harvest. I will dwell so much on maize seed because it is on high demand by farmers at this time of the year.
The current prices of certified maize seed are exceedingly exorbitant and beyond the reach of many small-scale farmers. The 10 kilogramme bag of maize seed is selling at an average price of K300 while 25 kilogramme bag is fetching K760. Most of the farmers may not produce maize as much as they would want due to prohibitive seed prices. However, farmers should not be discouraged by expensive maize seeds but seriously consider planting the seeds that can give them better yields.
A farmer who buys 10 kg of medium maturing maize seed at K260 may only produce 9.5 metric tonnes of maize per hectare which is 190 by 50 kg bags as compared to the farmer who plants 10 kg of late maturing seed at K760 with potential harvest of 14 metric tonnes or 280 bags of maize per hectare under good management. The farmer who bought high yielding seed can still get some profit even at the price of K60 at which Food Reserve Agency FRA is buying maize from the farmers.
It cannot be denied that some unscrupulous traders have taken advantage of the rising cost of maize seeds by selling fake seeds to unsuspecting farmers at ridiculously low prices. Small-scale farmers in particular should desist from buying seeds on the streets or unlicensed seed traders to curtail losses.
When a farmer is buying maize seed, he should ensure that the bag of seeds has a label from Seed Certification Control Institute of Zambia, SCCIZ.
The label should have the date on which the seed was tested by SCCIZ. The lot number on the label shows the year the seed was produced and the grower. The label should further indicate the germination capacity and purity of the seed which is normally above 90 percent.
Each seed company uses different colorant that is mixed with the seeds to protect the seeds against the pests. The colorant contains the shiny substance that makes the certified seeds look different from substandard seeds. The farmer should check that the seeds in the bag are uniform in terms of the shape and size. In addition, the bag of seed should not carry any foreign matter apart from the seed itself. Seed companies use special cotton or twine to sew bags of seeds. It is therefore important for farmers to pay particular attention to the way seeds are packaged by various seed companies to avoid buying counterfeit products.
Farmers should buy seeds from sellers who display price lists by seed companies so that they are able to buy seeds at the correct prices. Above all, a farmer should ask for a receipt upon the purchase of the seed from any seed seller. Some people do not mind getting receipts after buying goods from shops and markets. A Cash receipt helps the customer to claim his money back if the goods that he bought are defective. Similarly, a farmer would be able to trace the seller who sold him fake seeds and demand for the refund.
Seed Certification Control Institute of Zambia SCCIZ plays a pivotal role in quality assurance of the seeds but it is understaffed and lack adequate transport to effectively carry out its inspectorate work in all the districts.
The government department is responsible for testing the seeds and inspecting seed sales outlets so that only genuine and certified seeds are sold to the farmers.
The department is further empowered by the law to prosecute people who sell seeds without licenses. This key wing of the Ministry of Agriculture and cooperatives can only undertake such activities if it is well supported by government. I hope PF government will address some of the challenges faced by the department so that it serves the purpose for which it was established.
The author is a station manager at Mkushi Community Radio.