Analysis: NATHAN MULENGA
ZAMBIA National Service (ZNS) has continued taking strides towards making agriculture the main driver of Zambia’s economy aside from mining.
I am therefore happy that in spite of the challenge of unpredictable rainfall pattern that the nation was faced with, the 2017/2018 farming season was very progressive for ZNS as we strived to meet most of the production benchmarks we had set for ourselves in the year under review.
ZNS has continued with its robust expansion programme, with the focus being on irrigated crops. This is to circumvent the ever-increasing unpredictable weather pattern being induced by climate change, and experienced not only in Zambia, but the region and the world at large.
To this end, through Government’s support, ZNS has so far installed and operationalised 12 centre pivots covering a total of 720 hectares under irrigation.
The other eight centre pivots are at different stages of installation, and once in operation, ZNS shall be able to realise a total of 1,230 hectares of irrigated high-value crops at any given time.
Coming back to the 2017/2018 farming season, ZNS had a total yield of 103,955 50 kilogramme bags of white maize.
The nation may realise that there is a reduction in terms of maize yield when we compare with the 2016/2017 harvest where we produced close to 154,000 50 kilogramme bags of white maize.
This reduction can mainly be attributed to the partial drought that the country experienced.
However, when it comes to irrigated high-value crops, ZNS recorded a significant increase in yields of both soya beans and wheat.
While we produced 5,000 and 40,000 bags of soya beans and wheat in 2017, we were able to increase the yields to 17,280 and 57,450 in 2018, respectively.
The increase in the yields of high-value crops in the period under review is attributed to the increase in the number of centre pivots in the units and improved crop management by the officers, servicemen and women on the ground.
Even as ZNS focuses on growing irrigated crops, we shall continue to grow maize on a large scale.
This is to ensure that the country remains staple food-secure.
This is “on a lighter note” bearing in mind that most Zambians believe that if one has not eaten nshima on that day, then such a person would not have eaten anything.
My command realises that for the service’s agricultural production activities to be more meaningful and sustainably serve the Zambian people, there is need to engage and partner with private investors, both local and foreign.
In that regard, ZNS has been courting some foreign investors who have the financial muscle to partner with us so that production activities are enhanced at all levels.
We are hopeful that through such initiatives and support of Government, the service shall see unprecedented investment that will enable us not only to massively produce but also add value to our products for us to generate maximum revenue from the sales of our products.
In the area of infrastructure development, considerable work has been done countrywide. The construction of feeder roads has continued, though at a slow pace.
The slow pace of work can be attributed to inadequate machinery and, at times, inconsistent funding.
There is need, therefore, for Government to consider procuring additional pieces of earthmoving equipment to beef up on the existing fleet, funds permitting, in order for the service to shorten the time of execution of the existing projects before we embark on new ones.
The programme of constructing markets and other facilities by the service around the country has continued and I want to assure you that the projects shall be timely delivered given the support of all stakeholders involved.
The subject of empowering the youths with survival skills has been a matter held dear by this Government. In that regard, ZNS stands ready to take on yet another intake of trainees once the Ministry of Youth and Sports decides to undertake a recruitment exercise.
I know that an idle youth is not only a danger to himself or herself but a danger to society at large. It is therefore imperative that we empower our unemployed youths with skills that will enable them to fend for themselves and ultimately become productive members of our country.
I wish to acknowledge the unprecedented support the President and Government have continued to render to ZNS, especially in the last one year.
I want to assure the Zambian people that the Government’s identification of ZNS as one of the key strategic institutions to assist the nation accelerate a diversified national developmental agenda has not been misplaced.
We shall do everything possible to ensure that the benefits of Government trickle down to the majority poor, especially those in rural areas.
The author is Zambia National Service commandant.
Analysis: NATHAN MULENGA