Saturday, January 09, 2010
By STANSLOUS NGOSA
THE world food crisis is a grand opportunity for Zambia to take advantage of in terms of agriculture exports, foreign exchange income generation and employment creation.
Even with the abundant land, water resources and good climate, the country’s agriculture sector remains under-developed and dominated by small scale farmers.
Out of the total arable land available, according to the National Agriulture Policy, only 15 per cent is under cultivation, whilst the country’s vast water resource remains unharnessed, with most of the water draining out to the open seas via other countries.
Also, most of the agricultural activity remains at small scale level and dependent on seasonal rains.
However, with the new development in the agricultural sector such as the Governments’ approval of the National Cooperative Policy, the revised livestock and animal laws, the formulation of the National Agriculture Policy and the just signed Memorundum of Understanding (MOU) between Zambia and South Africa, could help promote the sector.
Zambia and South Africa signed six MoUs which included the agriculture sector when president Jacob Zuma was in the country on a state visit recently.
The two countries seek through the MoU to improve access to global market for exports to mitigate the variuos economic challenges affectinhg the two countries.
All these developments would signficantly lead to growth in the sector subsquently stimulate job creation and poverty reduction.
The world food crisis is likely to persist for sometime as global warming, which has brought about adverse weather to many food producing parts of the world, continues.
Ndola economist Hobby Simuchile, said the abundance of land and water resources as well as ideal climate give Zambia immense potential for increased agricultural production.
Mr Simuchile says being productive will put the country at an advantage to respond positively to the current world crisis by increasing food production for export to the world market and consequently increase its foreign exchange earnings.
According the Central Statistical Office(CSO), Zambia covers a total area of 752,614 square kilometres, of which 353,729 square kilometres is arable land.
The country also holds 25 per cent of southern Africa’s and 40 per cent of the SADC region’s surface resources and enjoys a rainfall range of between 700mm to 1,400mm per annum.
In addition, Zambia has good climate with distinct dry and rain seasons and temperatures ranging from 15 to 35 degrees celsius, ideal for growing a range of cereals such as maize, wheat, soya beans, sunflower, paddy rice and other crops.
However, out of the total arable land available, only 53,059 square kilometres 15 per cent, is under cultivation whilst the country’s vast water resources remain unharnessed, with most of it, about 100 billion cubic metres, draining out to other countries and the open seas.
This, according to the ministry of agriculture database, includes, among other things, Maize, Wheat and Paddy Rice which are in short supply and greatly demanded on the world market. The country also produces surplus soya beans.
World food prices have skyrocketed, underscoring the world-wide food crisis that has emerged over recent years and threatens many countries, especially in the world’s poor regions.
For instance, the international market price of wheat, according to Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO) doubled from February 2007 to February 2008 hitting a record high of over USD$10 per bushel.
Average prices of rice also reached 10-year highs, having increased from US $219.5 in 2006 to US $594.7 in June 2008.
The average price of soya beans increased from US $269 in 2006 to US $384 in 2007 and US $625 in 2008, whilst the average price of soya oil increased from US $599 to US $881 and US $1,522, respectively, over the same period.
The average price of maize increased from US $122 in 2006 to US $287 in June 2008. In some nations, milk and meat prices more than doubled.
Some specific factors that have led to the world food crisis and soaring prices include the impact of food for fuel .
One systemic cause for the food shortage and price rise is held to be the diversion of food crops maize in particular for making first-generation bio-fuels.
Declining world food stockpiles, in the past, nations tended to keep more sizeable food stockpiles, but more recently, due to the pace at which food could be grown and the ease with which it could be imported, less emphasis was placed on keeping available stockpiles.
Therefore, for example, in February 2008 wheat stockpiles hit a 60-year low in the United States.
Climate changes such as heat waves in California, drought in Australia and unseasonable rains in India are leading to loss of crops and higher prices.
Therefore, the world food crisis is likely to persist for some time as global warming, which has brought adverse weather to many food producing parts of the world, hence the need for Zambia to seize this opportunity the effects on climate change are minimal compared to the industrialised countries.
Jele-Hiefer Dairy Cooperative coordinator Effarta Jele Zambia should take advantage of the current world food crisis by increasing production in agriculture and enhancing exports.
Mrs Jele, who represented women farmers in Africa at the just ended Copenhagen conference on climate change in Denmark, said because of the abundant land and water resources and a good climate, Zambia had the capacity to produce enough to export to other countries.
She said Zambia should respond and take advantage of the current world food crisis and soaring prices by increasing agricultural exports.
Mrs Jele said countries like Botswana and the Iceland were likely to be affected by climate change and would need to import a lot of food.
“Botswana is dry and it will be much drier due to climate change, so we anticipate an increased demand for vegetables and green produce from there.” Mrs Jele said.
She said it was unfortunate that out of the total arable land available in Zambia, only 15 per cent was under cultivation, whilst the country’s vast water resources remained unharnessed, with most of the water draining out to the open seas.
Mrs Jele expressed hope that the approval of the National Cooperative Policy, the National Agriculture Policy and revised Livestock and Animals acts would help promote agriculture in Zambia.
She explains that in other parts of the world the food crisis was caused by poor harvests, increasing use of biofuels and an increasing demand for a more varied diet especially meat.
Mrs Jele says maize, wheat and paddy rice were on demand on the world market, a situation, which she said could be exploited by Zambian farmers.
Susan Ndao owner of Off spring Farm of Launshya’s Baluba area says it is possible for Zambian to produce food for export.
“The only problem is the link to the market, farmers are eager to grow more food but the market is the problem,” Mrs Ndao says.
She says most farmers are scared of producing a lot of food because they were scared of wasting.
Mrs Ndao says there is need for the Government to promote other crops other than maize and Livestock because Zambia has the potential to produce a variety.
The Government, according to the ministry of agriculture and cooperatives agriculture policy of 2004-2015, will promote the development of a competitive, efficient and transparent public and private sector driven marketing for agro-inputs and commodities
She, however, says the Government’s continued support to agriculture sector through initiatives like the Citizen Economic Empowerment Commission (CEEC), which disbursed K2.4bn to small scale farmers in Fisenge to improve their farming activities.
Kango-Kampala cooperative treasurer Dorothy Jere of Masaiti said there was need to help small scale horticulturists to sell their produce as doing so would contribute significantly to both the local and national economies.
Mrs Jere said the 70-member cooperative of horticulturists had the capacity to produce mixed fruit jam from their produce but lack the market.
Instead, the farmers ended up producing jam in small quantities for local consumption
Given this scenario the Government and stakeholders should intensify promotion of irrigated farming, both small and large scale which should be through constant agricultural land identification and de-alienation into farm blocs and agro-settlements.
One such effort is the Nansanga farm bloc in Mkushi District.
The other steps the state should take is facilitating irrigation infrastructure such as dam and canal construction coupled with electrification
Rehabilitation of old and construction of new feeder roads coupled with provision of extension and the promotion of mechanised farming methods should be encouraged if Zambia was seize this grand opportunity.
Promoting other crops apart from the tradition maize cultivation should be encouraged.