WE are at the cross roads again in as far as agriculture is concerned in this country. We have a drought again; we have never had a big drought since the 1992 one when we all tasted the yellow maize which was famously called the Scott mealie-meal imported from America. It is no longer a secret that we might have to import some maize this year to supplement whatever will be produced.
The traditional maize producing areas in this country are Eastern, Southern and Central provinces.
We have some districts like Mpongwe on the Copperbelt, Isoka and Mbala in the Northern province and Kawambwa in Luapula Province that have become part of the maize producing districts off the maize belt.
Nonetheless, the traditional maize producing zones have in the last three seasons become drier and drier and yet, our agricultural policies have continued to support and promote these areas as maize belts. We have a drought this year because of the effects of the El Nino.
We saw the delayed onset of the rainy season, with rains starting in January in Lusaka for instance. However, areas in the north have had reasonably favourable rains since the onset of the rainy season.
With these changing weather patterns, we need to strictly relook at the type of agriculture that we can promote in each of these areas.
For instance, we know that crops like sunflower, beans and to some extent sorghum do not need as much water as maize.
In most cases during a normal rainy season, sunflower and beans are normally planted in January. In areas like Musungu in Kawambwa and some parts of Luwingu, they grow beans twice in one rainy season.
We need to deliberately start promoting the growing of sorghum, cassava, sunflower, beans and rearing of cattle more in Southern, Western, certain parts of Central and southern parts of Eastern more than maize.
It will not help us in any way if we provide more maize seed, herbicides and fertilisers to these areas and yet the crop does not mature because of inadequate moisture/water.
If the Copperbelt, Northern, Muchinga, Luapula and North-western can produce as much maize, this can be distributed to deficit areas that might not produce adequate maize.
These are times when we can use more of the push than the pull strategies.
However, what this will entail is that we need to ensure perfect market conditions for the crops that will be pushed on to these areas, otherwise people from those areas might end up starving to death if they produce sunflower for instance, and yet there is no good market for that crop.
I know that most of us might be thinking that it will be difficult to make people cultivate crops that they are not used to.
I guess we have been forced to think that maize is the only food crop because of the support and publicity it has continued to receive.
I am alive to the fact that not long ago, our staple crops used to be sorghum, millet and cassava.
In areas like Luapula, for instance, cassava has continued to be the staple crop and I have never heard of anyone that had died due to starvation because of eating cassava.
As a matter of fact, I have never heard of the government distributing food in Luapula because of inadequate production of maize.
It is areas like Southern, Eastern and Central provinces that have continued to be victims of food shortages because they have been â€˜brain-washedâ€™ into believing that maize is the only food.
Areas like Western province have continued to be perennial recipients of food from government because of the floods for those people that have continued to live on the banks of the Zambezi river; this has not been the case with people from other districts such as Kaoma that have adopted cassava as their staple crop.
As we think of developing our seventh national development plan and national agriculture investment plans, we should strictly rethink our policies and allow the technocrats to be drivers of such plans.
We need to zone this country into comparative advantages of each commodity.
The author is an agribusiness practitioner.