FOOD shortages in Zambia result from high dependence on rain-fed cultivation where drought usually entails a food crisis.
This is particularly common among small-scale farmers and prevalence of the monoculture of maize production at the expense of crops tolerant to drought which exacerbate the impact of drought on the food situation.
Maize cultivation has been promoted in all parts of the country, without due consideration to agronomic suitability, for a long time since independence era, 1960s.
As a result, small-scale farmers even in drought prone areas are growing maize.
Since maize is liable to drought, agricultural production can be dramatically low in case of adverse weather conditions.
Because of this situation, the Government formulated the Food Crop Diversification Support Project through the Zambia Agricultural Research Institution (ZARI) with a view of enhancing food security by promoting drought tolerant food crops.
According to ZARI, the purpose of the project is to ensure that food crop diversification is realised in order to reduce over-dependency on maize in target areas.
The key expected project outputs included the multiplication and distribution system for improved varieties of cassava and sweet potato planting materials is established.
Suitable drought tolerant food crops, other than cassava and sweet potatoes, are identified and local production of these crops is improved.
The five years project that started on October 30, 2006 The other expected output is to enhance the extension activities for promotion of target food crops and also to disseminate various types of processing, preservation and utilisation technologies for target food crops are disseminated.
Ten districts in drought prone areas were identified tentatively in Agro-ecological Zone I and II, namely: Gwembe, Siavonga and Sinazongwe in Southern Province; Chongwe and Luangwa in Lusaka Province; Nyimba, Petauke and Mambwe in Eastern Province; and Sesheke and Shangombo in Western Province.
The actual districts to be selected will be reviewed during the project implementation.
The beneficiaries of the project are resource poor small-scale farmers in the above target areas.
JICA team and Zambian side will identify the target villages and the number of farmers jointly during the project period.
The time frame for the project is five years; from October 30, 2006 and the estimated budget, which is not yet clear but estimated to be about US $ 1.5 million.
The budgeting system under the technical cooperation is done yearly, based on planned activities for that period.
The project is currently bearing fruit with 57.8 per cent of the total cultivated area being under maize while the rest of the crops occupy 42.2 per cent of the total cultivated area in the country.
Previously, maize growing had significantly dominated the agricultural sector in the country.
Agriculture Minister, Brian Chituwo said the trend over the years indicates that the agriculture sector has somewhat accelerated its diversification through increased inputs of a variety crops like soya beans, cassava, sweet potatoes and other legumes.
Dr Chituwo said the value and variety of exports commodities have also significantly increased since the inception of the project.
"The sector through the diversification project has provided high quality raw materials such as cotton lint to the industrial sector for agro and resource base industries," Dr Chituwo said.
He said the industrial sector requires the support of other sectors particularly the agriculture sector to get it moving efficiently and comprehensively because the linkages generate considerable employment, income and economic growth and reduces poverty.
Dr Chituwo said the project has helped to emphasise the need to promote some important food security crops like cassava, sorghum and food legumes.
He said the other benefits the project has started seeing are cash crops, soil improvements through crop rotation with legumes.
The Government through the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives has been promoting crop diversification among farmers.
According to the latest 2008/2009 crop forecasting survey, the analysis by province shows that North-Western had the highest proportion of area under maize in comparison to the total area planted to all crops with 73.8 per cent.
This was followed by Western Province with 70.8 per cent.
The lowest proportion of area under maize in comparison to total area planted to all other crops was recorded in Northern and Luapula provinces with 37.1 per cent and 42.1 per cent, respectively.
"This is so because the staple food for most people in the two provinces is mainly cassava.
Therefore, large tracts of land are under cassava," the report states.
According to the 2010 - 2012 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and the 2010 Budget Green Paper, the Government would continue to place strong emphasis on economic diversification through a number of measures aimed at stimulating growth in the non-mining sectors of the economy.
The sectors include agriculture, tourism and manufacturing.
It is expected that interventions that were undertaken in these sectors during 2009, such as the Nansanga Farm Block, Kasaba Bay, and Multi-Facility Economic Zones, would yield economic returns over the medium term, as investors move in and start business activities.
The Government's overall expenditure policy for the period 2010 - 2012 is focused on positioning Zambia to take full advantage of the upturn in the global economy as the recession recedes.
It is common sense that there is need to support such initiatives because the benefits are huge.
It is imperative that all stakeholders supported the project to its fruition because it is on course.