KNOW YOUR DISTRICT
By KELVIN KACHINGWE
THE future for Nkeyema, declared a district two years ago, lies in agriculture.
Before becoming a district, Nkeyema belonged to Kaoma, situated in the western central part of the country, west of the Zambezi/Kafue watershed.
Until Nkeyema and Luampa districts were partitioned as districts from Kaoma, it used to be about the size of a minor West European country.
But of course it is not as well-developed as any of the West European countries such as Belgium or the Netherlands.
Its break-up, however, is hoped will help in the acceleration of development of the areas.
Kaoma districtâ€™s well-watered savannah, characteristically wooded with the brachystegia (muputu) tree, has eminent agricultural opportunities lending to Kaoma the proud identity of granary of western Zambia. That is in addition to its rich game and fishing environment.
In his book Intercultural Encounters: African and Anthropological Lessons towards a Philosophy of Inter-culturality published in 2003, Win M.J. Binbergen says until well into the 1970s, game meat (partly from that straying from the Kafue National Park) continued to be a prominent component of the village diet.
Also, villagers would have a main source of cash income from the covert sales of bundles of dried meat throughout the region. And chiefs, who under the colonial administration were deprived of their political, economic and judicial powers, would continue to supplement their income considerably through the sale of ivory.
It was not until the 1980s that big game disappeared from the region which is attributed to a number of factors, chief among them, the exploitation of the districtâ€™s high quality timber by locals using power saws and the expansion of agricultural activities, especially Nkeyema Agriculture Scheme that was initiated in the â€˜70s.
Until the then, Kaoma, as a district, had nothing to offer to ambitious young men with such formal education as the mission schools could provide, according to Win Binbergen. The only career opportunities were far away, temporarily as a labour migrant, and more permanently in urban formal sector employment.
However, by the â€˜70s, the first generation of Nkoya urbanites was approaching normal retirement age by Zambian standards, and looking for opportunities to employ their urban skills of organisation, enterprise and politics, as well as their pension money in their home area.
The Nkeyema Agriculture Scheme, which initially had accommodated mainly ethnic strangers, happened to be what they were just looking for.
Under this programme, the major project was the Nkeyema Tobacco Scheme, which was located 60km north of Kaoma, where the Tobacco Board of Zambia rendered services as did many other parastatal organisations that time.
The tobacco and maize growers were given the assistance of agriculture extension services â€“ referred to as section managers and assistants. Loans were also given to some of the employees of the board whose other major role was to market and transport the produce of the peasant farmers.
Of significance, however, is that the scheme was highly dependent on its financial survival on the parent organisation in Lusaka. The Kaoma Tobacco Board could not dispose of tobacco crops locally as they had to transport them to Lusaka where they were auctioned in line with other tobacco crops from other areas of Zambia.
That has pretty been the story for Nkeyema â€“ relying on Kaoma or Lusaka for its existence or survival, if you like.
Evidently, Nkeyema, with a population of about 42,000, has lagged behind in development despite its vibrancy. For services, the residents of Nkeyema, which has three wards â€“ Litoya, Nkeyema and Namilange – have had to access services 100km away but are now hopeful that with it being a district, these will be brought closer to them.
â€œWe expect the population to grow rapidly in the next five to ten years because Nkeyema remains vibrant. Thatâ€™s why we need to build social services here,â€ Nkeyema district commissioner Yuvwenu Kashandola says.
Most people in Nkeyema are involved in tobacco and maize growing although the government and some cooperating partners have been working on ensuring that they diversify to crops that can earn them income throughout the year other than seasonal ones.
â€œWe need to introduce modern technologies in farming in the district in order to improve yield rates per hectare. The department of agriculture has been educating farmers on conservation farming. Theyâ€™ve done quite a lot in Nkeyema and the farmers have started applying this technology. As time goes on, we expect the yields to improve.
â€œIn fact, this year, we have had huge production of tobacco and maize. We just need to speed up paying farmers because anytime the rains may start. The issue of planting late has worked against farmers,â€ Mr Kashandola says.
Away from agriculture, the district is working at setting up its administrative structure, particularly departments such as health, education, information, community development, social welfare, cultural affairs and agriculture.
Unlike in Luampa, not all the departmental heads have moved in the area.
â€œI have no office,â€ one departmental head who was found working from Kaoma simply said when asked why he had not moved to his new base.
But it should not be long before his plight is addressed.
Under the initial set-up, some money has been disbursed for putting up a modern administrative centre which will cater for all the departmental heads as well as a police station, post office and district hospital. For the police, the plan includes building 20 housing units for the officers.
The delay has been with the numbering of the plots in Lusaka. The council in Nkeyema produced a lay-out plan which was sent to Lusaka for numbering. Once this is done, an advert will be put up for contractors wanting to start the construction.
â€œThere are a lot of people who want to invest in infrastructure. So we expect the issue of accommodation to be sorted out. Currently, all departmental heads and the district commissioner are using local infrastructure which is available with the view that once the issue of plots is concluded, this will be addressed. For you, you can just appreciate the people who have sacrificed,â€ the district commissioner says.
â€œThe challenges are many, but with the creation of an administrative centre, we expect a lot of economic benefits. Our priority is to build an administrative centre; then we start working on the roads. The state of the feeder roads is bad. They need to be worked on to ease the delivery of agricultural inputs. We also want to work on the Njololo Road which is about 20 kilometres because it is in a very productive area and we expect a lot of people to settle there. So weâ€™re looking forward to it being funded adequately.
â€œThe issue of water and sanitation is one we intend to address, it is a major problem. We intend to identify areas where we can put boreholes. Then for urban areas, weâ€™ll have proper water reticulation.â€
In the area of health, the district has four rural health centres which are operational but face challenges in terms of trained staff as there are no clinical officers. Naturally, it is one area that is of concern to the residents who are always concerned with the type of health services being offered.
The district commissioner says he expects the central government to address this.
In education, Nkeyema boasts of 28 schools, of which 18 are community and only one secondary school.
Again, there is a challenge of accommodation for the staff, lack of classroom space and low staff levels.
Then, there is the issue of a bridge.
â€œWe also need to work on the Mabuela bridge on Namilange-Maloba road, the crossing point across Luena River. An attempt was made to put [up]a bridge but someone misused the materials and abandoned the project. So every year we have flooding, itâ€™s a disaster as we lose a life every year. So the moment we get money, we will put a bridge at Namilange, thatâ€™s a priority also,â€ Mr Kashandola said.
Still, Nkeyemaâ€™s future lies in developing its agriculture.
But infrastructure should come first.
KNOW YOUR DISTRICT