25 August 2012

Zambia: Outlining Impact of Research On Agricultural Growth


ON average we have a research station per province in this country and some provinces have two research stations. You will sympathize with me that all those public research stations were established during the reign of one Dr Kaunda.

Those research stations were conducting out important research for development of our agricultural sector, and from such research, reliable varieties of maize, rice, beans, wheat and many other crops were released. Some of the varieties that stood a test of time are those that were released from Mt. Makulu research stations such as the MM maize varieties (MM604, MM752, etc), the famous Lorrie II for wheat.

The scenario was similar in soil sciences, agricultural economics/econometrics and animal science. In actual fact, each research station was specialized, for instance, Mansa and Solwezi research stations were and are still specialized in root and tuber (cassava, sweet potato, potato), Kasama and Kabwe were for soils research and many others.

However, even if these stations were specialized, a lot more other research took place. Probably you might ask me as to why am emphasizing the importance of research in agricultural development.

You will agree with me that the research and development department of the company is the cornerstone of growth. Microsoft, Apple, Zamseed, Pioneer, name them are like what they are today because of research. To come up with innovative products and services that will stand the global competition, a company should continually be involved in research.

In private companies, the research department is well integrated with the marketing departments. These two departments are more important than the CEO; actually you can only be called a CEO if these two departments are functional. Regrettably, this has not been the case with our (public) agricultural development in Zambia.

We have great institutions that have gone in a dormancy mood such as Palabana, UNZA, Balmoral and many other public institutions.

The problem hasn't been that these institutions do not have the capacity in terms of human capital but they are not only ineffectively funded but are inefficiently funded. The people responsible will always cry that there is no money for such activities but wait until an MP resigns and joins the ruling party, funds will be sourced over night to fund such a by-election. I have come to conclude that it is not about having money but priotising.

Regrogressively, this has been at the expense of our agricultural development. The private sector has tried by all means to fill the gaps but these are driven by profits. They only venture into commodities that they know they will sell. We talk of being food secure when 60 percent of our farmers are using varieties that are not high yielding.

Take for example the famous Mongu rice; that variety called super rice is no longer what it is and if seed companies can take up the challenge to purify that variety, the yields for rice in Barotse will go up and we shall produce towards being self sustainable in rice production. After forty eight years of independence (as the President would say) we can allow rice coming from Thailand to be cheaper than our own Chama rice.

Our brothers and sisters from Southern province have a naturally growing 'yam' called busala what have we done to domesticate and improve the breeding of that important food crop? I hope when we are talking about diversification, we don't only mean to grow a 'Whiteman's' crop! All the busala can help in periods of not having enough maize. We have been maizewashed as a country such that we are even forgetting about our own sorghum, finger millet, cassava and other crops that we can call our own.

Therefore, I call upon the ministry of maize and maize products to reconsider revamping our research stations. It's annoying to walk into a laboratory and find that they don't have even the basic equipment like a test tube, reagents such as copper sulphate while the minister has two official vehicles, talk time of over one million per month.

Lets overhaul the system and allocate resources were they matter most. I am not saying a minister is not important, but research is more important than the minister. Our athletics from the just ended Olympics are almost the only few that came without a spoon medal.

This has all to do with investments; we invested nuts and what are we expecting to get? Honorable minister, I have been following you like water in a furrow, kindly do something in regards to investing in research, extension delivery and real diversification.

Lastly, am very perplexed at the statement attributed to your deputy minister who said we can't implement the livestock act on compulsory dipping because some areas don't have dip tanks. It's not only by dipping that you can control ticks; where there are no tanks, holding pens can be make using simple poles and spraying of animals can be done.

I saw it being done in 1986 when we had the outbreak of denkede. I am begging with the deputy minister to retract that statement because it was disturbing so much for some of us who had seen their parents loose all their cattle in a period of three rain seasons (1985-1987).

We are talking of increasing the cattle population from the current three million to at least five million but if we buy into such statements, then we are doomed as a sector and buried as a country. Do not be defeated before you even get into the ring; invest in research, extension and diversification and everything will fall in place.

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