Friday, July 16, 2010

COMESA chief bemoans region’s low land utisation for agriculture

COMESA chief bemoans region’s low land utisation for agriculture
By Fridah Zinyama
Thu 15 July 2010, 15:10 CAT

COMESA secretary general Sindiso Ngwenya has bemoaned the low level of land utilisation for agricultural purposes in the region. And agriculture minister Peter Daka said the region needs to address the challenges being faced in the development of agriculture and natural resources.

Meanwhile, Swaziland Minister of Agriculture Clement Dlamini said the agriculture sector in the region requires an urgent injection of resources to enable farmers to produce high quality goods for both regional and export markets.

During the third joint meeting of the Ministers of Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources at COMESA secretariat yesterday, Ngwenya said the region was utilising less than nine per cent of arable land for cultivation, and only four per cent of available water was used for agriculture.

“The average percentage of cropland in the region is 16.5 per cent, of which again only 11.5 per cent is under irrigation,” he said.

Ngwenya said the COMESA region had great agricultural potential which was greatly underutilised due to various challenges being faced in the region.

“Despite the insufficient utilisation of this potential, the sector remains the key engine of economic growth for the foreseeable future in the region,” he said. “The region is a major producer of crops such as maize, tobacco, groundnuts, cotton, vegetables, fruits and flowers.”

Ngwenya added that the agricultural potential in the region could be fully achieved if governments increased investment in agriculture and adopted policies that unleashed this potential.

And Daka said Zambia had made significant progress in the finalisation of the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) and hope to have the compact signed before the end of the year.

“CAADP provides the vision for attracting the much needed capital into the agriculture sector and provision of the requisite support to enable our farmers scale up agricultural production and the development of export-led agro-processing industries,” he said.

Daka said Zambia had seen a marked improvement in crop production this year as witnessed by the 48 per cent increase in maize production for the 2009/2010 farming season.

And Dlamini said there was need for the region to work hard and fast to minimise the constraints being faced in improving crop productivity.

“We must intensify our efforts to process the vast amount of agricultural produce instead of exporting primary produce, which attracts low prices in the international market,” said Dlamini.

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