Friday, October 12, 2012

How agriculture can be enhanced amid challenges

How agriculture can be enhanced amid challenges
October 11, 2012

FOR over 100 years, 106 years to be precise, farmers from across the country have been meeting annually at the Zambia National Farmers’ Union (ZNFU) Congress with the main objective of sharing ideas amongst themselves and with other stakeholders on how best agriculture can be enhanced amid numerous challenges in a bid to ensure food security and achieve sustainable economic and social development.

Yet again the farmers will gather at Mulungushi International Conference Centre today to mark the 107th year of the annual ZNFU congress under the theme “Livestock and agricultural exports”.

For the farmers, the 107 years have been characterised by various successes and challenges. Notable among the successes scored by the Zambian farming community is that the country self-sufficient in wheat production. Previously the country was only producing an average of 35,000 tonnes of wheat which did not meet the country’s demand but today production has increased with this year’s production estimated to be not less than 266,000 tonnes.

The development has positioned the country as a net exporter of wheat in the region with the Democratic Republic of Congo being one of the country’s major markets.

Zambia has also increased maize production with the country recording about 2.8 million tonnes this year though it’s a six percent reduction from last season due to poor rains experienced.

With these achievements scored in agriculture production due to continued dialogue between Government and stakeholders and Government’s commitment to the sector, the region is looking to Zambia to supply it with food.

However, not all is rosy as the sector has been faced with numerous challenges, among them the high cost of doing business due to, among other issues high electricity tariffs.

Others include poor road infrastructure leading to markets, livestock diseases and insufficient breeding stocks at national and farm levels.
Most recently the cotton farmers were also grappled with the challenge on low cotton prices, a move that resulted in some farmers burning their fields to express their displeasure.

Despite the challenges the farmers face each day, they have vowed to soldier on in a bid to achieve their goals of sustainable development through agriculture.

With about 80 percent of the rural population depending on agriculture for employment and general livelihood and the sector contributing around 20 percent of the national gross domestic product(GDP), agriculture is reasonably being touted as the engine driving the sustenance of the country’s socio-economic development in both rural and urban areas.

Government is also alive to the fact that agriculture is an important sector in the economic development of the country and in the diversification process.

In his address to parliament recently republican President Michael Sata stated that Government’s policy objective on agriculture is to achieve a dynamic, competitive, diversified and sustainable sector that will ensure national food security and increased incomes at all levels.

This will be done through the promotion of investment in agro-processing, establishing associated irrigation schemes for smallholder and large-scale farmers with Government expected to bring 17,000 of land under irrigation.

Government also plans to develop the livestock sector through the restocking programme, construction of livestock service centres and rehabilitation of breeding centres in various parts of the country.
“We have intensified animal disease control mechanisms and my Government plans to rehabilitate and restock idle state ranches in Mporokoso and Senanga,” President Sata said.

With these initiatives by Government, this year’s theme for the congress: “Livestock and Agricultural exports” is timely because with increased investment in agro-processing and strengthening of the livestock sector, the country will have enough for local consumption and for exports.

According to ZNFU,livestock and exports will play a significant role in Zambia’s quest to create wealth and addressing poverty among the rural communities.

With readily available markets in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA),Zambia needs to take full advantage of these regional markets for increased export earnings at both national and household levels.

“It is important that the country prioritises the development of the livestock sector as well as fire up the export potential for accelerated economic growth and poverty reduction in Zambia,” ZNFU said.
The congress ,which will be graced by vice president Guy Scot, who is a farmer himself, is an opportunity for farmers from 68 district farmers’ associations across the country, commodity committees, corporates, agribusiness members, various stakeholders and Government to discuss pertinent issues aimed at moving the sector forward.

The congress will be preceded by the Women Farmers Forum which is being held for the first time in the history of the ZNFU annual congresses and is aimed at linking women farmers to the entire food production value chains and turn them into actual agro-players and not simply labourers.

According to ZNFU media liaison officer Calvin Kaleyi,women play an important role in agriculture production and ensuring food security, yet their role only ends at doing the difficult jobs of tilling the land and sowing seed while the men only come in during the marketing period to get the money from the “fruits of the women’s labour”.

“realising the role women play ,the 107th congress will host a women’s forum on October 9,which will attract high profile national and international speakers from the diplomatic service, agri-business ,banking sector and line government ministries,” he said.

Mr Kaleyi also said that to enhance a deeper understanding of agricultural issues among the delegates, the congress hosted commodity committees in different locations, farms and agri-business outlets yesterday.

“As a new innovation, the 107 congress will have commodity committees hosted at different locations, this is intended to enhance deeper understanding of agricultural issues through first-hand information from experts, agri-business outlets and peer-to-peer interaction,” he said.

The delegates in the grains sector will visit greenbelt and seedco while those in the oilseeds sector will visit ZamanitaOils and Tiger Feeds.

Delegates in the livestock sector will visit Master Pork,Kalundu Dairy and Huntley Farm with delegates in the fruits and vegetables industry expected to visit Freshmark.

Other activities include the agri-business activities that will run parallel with the congress. The agri-business exhibition enables agri-business houses, entrepreneurs and stakeholders to showcase their products and services.


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