Editor's Comment

Farming should be continuous

Maize field farm.

ZAMBIA experienced erratic rainfall and in some cases, prolonged drought in the 2018- 2019 season thereby affecting crop production, especially in the country’s southern parts.
As a result of this, the country’s maize production is expected to reduce by 16 percent to about two million tonnes from 2.39 million tonnes last year.
The country has carry-over stocks of maize amounting to 474,515 tonnes from the last season, including about 300,000 tonnes held in strategic reserves. So, the country has a total of 2.47 million tonnes of maize available, above its requirement of 1.96 million tonnes.
This means that despite the adverse effects of weather on agricultural production, the country remains food secure.
The Food Reserve Agency (FRA) ensures that at any given time, the country should have 500,000 metric tonnes of maize.
But because Government is now obliged to feed citizens in the areas which did not receive adequate rains and the recent decision to allow the export of maize, there is need to replenish the strategic maize reserves.
Besides, the FRA has been offloading maize to millers to help cushion the price of commodity which had gone over the K100 mark.
This meant that the strategic maize reserves have become rotational.
So Government’s decision to engage commercial farmers to produce 150,000 tonnes of winter maize is significant.
To is good be proactive and this is what Ministry of Agriculture Permanent Secretary Songowayo Zyambo has done in meeting large-scale maize producers to discuss possibilities of cultivating winter maize.
Winter maize should actually be the norm and not only when stocks dwindle to risky levels.
This initiative must not be restricted to maize. Other crops too should be grown all year round as Zambia continues its quest to diversify the agricultural sector.
That way erratic rainfall shall have minimal impact on harvest. Winter farming will entail that farmers will use their fields to the maximum.
This will also encourage crop rotation as fields can be used two to three times in a year.
Much as winter farming is desirable, it is a very expensive venture because inputs, especially the initial investment of irrigation machinery, are very expensive.
There is also the unfriendly cost of electricity.
This is the reason the two State institutions – the Zambia Correctional Service (ZCS) and the Zambia National Service (ZNS) are yet to embark on winter cultivation of maize.
The two are currently involved in winter growing of wheat, with the ZCS cultivating 45 hectares in Kabwe while ZNS is has been tilling at large scale in Lumezi, Mkushi and now Mangango in Kaoma.
Both ZCS and ZNS are determined to venture into maize winter farming given the necessary support. Give them, as they have proved that they can do it.
In fact, small and mid-scale farmers too should be encouraged to get into irrigation to ensure that they are active throughout the year. This will enhance food security, at least at household level.
Efforts must be made to cut production costs, not necessarily through subsidies but through other initiatives such as controlling costs for irrigation equipment, seed and other inputs.
Capacity in extension services must also be further strengthened to ensure that investments do not go to waste on account of lack of knowledge.
Yet again, Zambia has a wake-up call on the weather. It’s time to stay awake.
Potential must be transformed into action to sustain Zambia as food secure and an exporter to needy countries.

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