Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Farmer urges diversification
By Vincent Chilikima in Solwezi
Fri 07 June 2013, 14:01 CAT

COMMENT - 'Conservation farmer'? Does that mean he has declared part of his giant estate a 'nature reserve'? Just wondering, because that is a trick you keep running into over and over.

A CONSERVATION farmer in Ikeleng'i district says there is need for Zambia to transform her economical base from mining to agriculture.

In an interview, Tom Robertson said despite copper currently being Zambia's major source of revenue, it could not be relied upon to sustain the economy in the long term because minerals were a non-renewable resource.

He added that notwithstanding copper being a non-renewable asset, Zambia in the mid 70's experienced a massive reduction of copper prices which brought severe negative effects on the national economy, adding that history had a tendency of repeating itself.

Robertson suggested that the way forward was to massively direct energies into developing the agricultural sector because Zambia actually had enormous potential to feed up to 200 million people.

He explained that Zambia's agricultural potential lay in her 45 million hectares of arable land and her possession of 45 per cent of southern Africa's waters adding that her direct linkage to eight countries that surround her provided Zambia with gateways and a huge agriculture market opportunity within and beyond the central and southern regions of Africa.

Robertson added that there was urgent need for the nation to pragmatically and assertively promote conservation agriculture in order to drastically reduce the cost of production whilst improving crop productivity and production which would result in increased household and national incomes through exports.

He emphasised that adopting conservation agriculture would guarantee long-term sustainable wealth creation and improve the standards of living at both household and national level.

Robertson said conservation farming could only be profitable if all operations were done on time.

He further said there was a lot of wastage through the burning of crop residues in conventional farming adding that such a practice was an environmental hazard because it significantly contributed to the depletion of soil fertility.

Meanwhile, the National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research has disclosed that the institute was carrying out research work with pineapple farmers in Ikeleng'i district.

NISIR executive director Professor Francis Tembo disclosed that the institute was conducting a project with the local farming community with the main objective of increasing the productivity and production of pineapples and improving the crop quality for marketing.

Prof Tembo explained that unlike the local farmers who use the top part of the pineapple fruit as seed, NISIR was using tissue culture to multiply the seedlings and thereafter select the seedlings for planting according to similarity of variety and other characteristics that would lead to uniformity of production.

He further explained that uniformity of the fruits in terms of size and consistency in sweetness would fetch local farmers a good price and meet the standards required for the factory market adding that an Indian firm had currently carried out feasibility studies for the possibility of establishing a pineapple canning factory in Ikeleng'i district.

Tembo said NISIR's project was aimed at enhancing the identification of Ikeleng'i district as the national hub of an economic cluster of pineapples and thereby propelling a value addition chain from production through to processing, marketing and export.

"Once a factory and value addition chain is established, there will be need for consistent supply to meet the orders," he said.

He explained that NISIR was mandated to conduct research in industry, technology and scientific matters adding that they are currently producing baby foods using locally grown crops such as cow peas, soybeans, groundnuts, bambaranuts and were also behind the production of the popular Maheu drink in addition to the Tip Top soft drink which was introduced during the UNIP government.

"We have also producing an improved cook stove which uses coal as an alternative to charcoal and firewood in order to curb deforestation," said Tembo.

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