Editor's Comment

Zambia shall not live by maize alone

CASSAVA

FARMERS at all levels should take advantage of the advice by Minister of Agriculture Michael Katambo to diversify into growing other crops.
Zambia has traditionally been cultivating maize as the main crop.
In many cases, it has been the only crop grown by most peasant farmers.
This is understandable because maize is the country’s staple food.
Maize is, however, a low-value crop. In fact, maize is so labour-intensive that, generally, it does not make economic sense to grow it.
This is especially if the field is small and the tools used are basic, like hoes.
In terms of nutrition, maize is practically very poor and not recommended as main food.
The producers do not determine the market price of the product.
It is therefore commercially beneficial for farmers of all size, form and shape to start migrating to food crops which are more nutritious and commercially sustainable as well as climate resilient.
There is a broad range of food crops which farmers turn to with ease and with less cost margins implications.
These crops include, but not limited to, sweet potatoes, cassava, carrots, yams, millet, sorghum and wheat.
These crops can take the place of maize and are commercially viable in Zambia.
The producers should constantly be on the lookout for information that will help them decide which crops to turn to. Sometimes, poor planning and misinformation can lead to investing in crops that may be profitable one season but a complete loss in the next.
For now, information coming from Mr Katambo is that there is a deficit in rice production. As a result, the country has to import rice to meet the deficit.
This means the country will spend its hard-earned foreign currency and the commodity will land at a higher price.
Surely, farmers do not need much encouragement to venture into rice production. For those that are already in this venture, this is an opportunity to expand their production.
Currently, rice is produced in Western Province where the famous Mongu rice is grown. Chama and Nakonde districts in Muchinga Province also produce rice.
There are many other areas that have great potential to be rice-producing zones. Clearly, Zambia has potential to grow rice to meet local consumption as well as enough to meet the demand in the Southern African Development Community and beyond.
This potential, however, amounts to nothing if farmers do not get adequate support. Many Zambians have the will to take up such challenges and opportunities, but they lack extension support, seed and market information.
It is good, therefore, that the Ministry of Agriculture has developed a rice strategy to improve its value chain from research and development to production and marketing.
Given Zambia’s fertile soils and good weather, the country is capable of being self-sufficient not only in millet and sorghum but cassava and other crops too.
For the country to be considered totally food secure, citizens should shift from dependence on maize to other more nutritious foods such as Irish potatoes, cowpeas, sorghum and millet which currently have low per capita consumption.
Zambians should also not ignore some of the ‘indigenous’ crops like bondwe and impwa as well as pumpkins, all of which have lots of nutritional value.
Diversification of diets will not only improve nutrition of households but lead to agricultural diversification. Agricultural diversification will in turn help the country mitigate the impact of climate change by adopting drought-resistant and early maturing varieties.
Government’s policy on alternative food policy will be critical in this regard.

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