AGRICULTURE is one of the most important sectors in Zambia and farmers' expectations from the Government are high.
The farmers have told this column that there is need for the Government to address the bottlenecks that have continued to affect the growth of the sector after analysing the challenges faced previously.
Patrick Chilufya of Luanshya's Nkulamashiba farming area expects the Government to improve the market of other crops than maize, as doing so would promote diversification.
He said he had the capacity to diversify from the traditional staple food farming to other crops if the market was guaranteed.
Mr Chilufya who produces maize and popcorns said with the incentives provided in the 2012 Budget, he is ready to expand his fish pond which is serving as subsistence.
Mukosa Matafwali of Ndola rural said she would be happy to see the benefits of the good Budget improving agriculture business for small-scale farmers.
She said farming would be appreciated and contributes to poverty reduction unless the Budget begins to address concerns affecting the development of small-scale farmers.
Ms Matafwali who produces popcorns, however, said there was need for the Government to perfect the distribution of farming inputs.
She said the distribution network of farming inputs should be improved this year unlike in the previous years.
Ms Matafwali said extension services should be put in place because lack of information affected farming business where she had to depend on her uncle for farming advice.
"We lack information on farming which makes difficult to plan, for example, the quality and quantity of inputs to use for a particular yield, so I always ask my uncle who has been in farming business for a long time," Ms Matafwali said.
Luanshya's Kampelembe Camp Agriculture chairperson Pythias Timba said lack of information of the weather pattern continues to affect farmers especially on climate change.
Mr Timba said there was need to build capacity among small-scale farmers on issues of addressing the effects of climate change because they are the most vulnerable in the farming society.
He said with a majority of Zambians depending on agriculture, even a slight change in temperature could affect crops like maize and livelihoods.
Mr Timba said any change in climate can spell disaster hence the need to teach the farmers on the mitigation and adaptation measures.
He said the farmers need to understand how climate is changing for example an increase in temperature was likely to be conducive for a proliferation of pests that are detrimental to crop production.
"An increase in temperature is likely to reduce soil moisture, moisture storage capacity and the quality of the soil, which are vital nutrient for agricultural crops," Mr Timba said.
He said an increase in temperature and humidity would create ideal conditions for malaria, sleeping sickness and other infectious diseases that would directly affect the availability of human resources needed for the agriculture sector.
Citizen for Better Environment executive director Peter Sinkamba said in Kitwe that an integrated approach to environmental management was needed to ensure sustainable growth of the agriculture sector.
Mr Sinkamba said climate change was real and needed integrated approach for sustainable management of the environment.
He said, for instance, conservation of African bio-diversity would ensure delivery of ecosystem goods and services necessary to human life support systems that was soil health, water and air.
Mr Sinkamba said being proactive would enable the Government save and channel resources being used for disaster management to development activities.
Dairy Farmers Association vice-chairperson Effarta Jele said there was need to subsidise agriculture production and not consumption as doing so would stimulate growth in the line sectors thus create more and subsequently reduce poverty.
She said the majority of small-scale farmers had realised farming was a business, it is important that huge investment was ploughed in the sector.
Ms Jele expects the introduction of breeding centres in provinces to boost the dairy sector.
She said importing dairy animals from other countries will continue being a problem where the animals die because of different climatic condition.
"We had a number of dairy animals imported from South Africa that died because the conditions were different and husbandry was different," Ms Jele said.
She said it was not easy for small-scale dairy farmers to manage imported dairy animals because they had no capacity to do so hence the need to introduce local animals that adapt to the local conditions.
She said commercial farmers had no problems managing imported dairy animals because they had the capacity.
"The main thrust should be to control livestock diseases of national economic importance. The other area of emphasis should be re-stocking and increasing overall production, productivity, and management of marketable livestock and livestock products especially in the traditional sector," Ms Jele said.
She expects the banks to reduce lending rates low to enable small -scale farmers access credit facilities.
She said promotion of the value addition should be on the development agenda of the sector this year and beyond.
Ms Jele said it was painful to see imported peanut butter on the shelves countrywide when Zambia produces groundnuts.
However, given Zambia's resource endowment, the Government's long-term vision for the agricultural sector was aimed at achieving national food security for the majority of the population through increased yields and improved post-harvest• The column will next week talk about how the Government intends to address some of the concerns and expectations raised by the farmers.
The agrometeorological conditions have indicated that continued dry and hot conditions are likely to induce water stress on crops in Kazungula, Livingstone, Kalomo, Siavonga and Namwala districts in the next ten days.
According to the Southern Province Crop Weather Bulletin, planting of rain- fed crop at this stage will be at owner's risk.
However, in other areas most plants were at vegetative stages and performed well.
Early planted crops were in the advanced vegetative stages.
Meanwhile, moist Congo air boundary fluctuating over central and north-western parts of the province leave southwestern parts under light south-easterlies during the period from December 21-31, 2011.
Rainfall distribution was erratic in both amounts and space.
Two to seven rain days were recorded in most areas. Warm to hot temperatures (28-35Â°) Celsius was reported.
Heavy rainfall amounts of 148mm, 138mm and 103mm were recorded at Chikuni Mission, Kalomo FTC and Maamba Colliery.
Siachitema, Zambia Adventist University, Munyumbwe had 102mm, 100mm, and 98mm each.
Others in the same grouping were Itezhi-tezhi Whitehead in Livingstone, Chipepo Met and Namwala which had 95mm, 76mm 58mm and 55mm each. Buleya Malima, Simango and Siameja on the other hand received moderate to light rainfall.
Comparately, last season experienced relatively more rainfall during the same period.
The ten day rainfall performance was below normal in most areas except for Chikuni, Kalomo, Maamba and Siachitema among others which reported above normal.
The highest seasonal cumulative rainfall figures from July 1, 2011 amounting to 449mm and 362mm were observed at Maamba Colliery and Chikuni.
Katombora Reformatory however, reported the lowest figure of only 129mm.
The seasonal rainfall performance on the other hand showed that above normal rainfall was recorded at Maamba Colliery with a surplus of 40 per cent.
Buleya Malima, Chikuni Mission in Monze, Chipepo and Kalomo FTC achieved normal rainfall with 10 per cent, six per cent and six per cent surplus respectively.
Magoye in Mazabuka district and Siavonga on a worrying side experienced 60 per cent and 55 per cent deficits.
And the weather forecast for January 8 and 10 indicates moist north-easterly will prevail over the same period.
The skies would be partly cloudy to cloudy with showers and thunderstorms in places over northern districts of the province.
And sunny and clear conditions are expected to persist in the southern half of the province.