17 November 2012

Zambia: Planning to Plant for a Bumper Income

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PLANNING is a very important ingredient in success.

I have never heard of anyone who has succeeded in life, business, sport, name them without planning.

You will agree with me that even plunderers plan how they will steal public resources.

You will be surprise to learn that most of those plunderers have been studying the systems for years before they venture into the act although it is illegal and criminal in nature.

The point am trying to drive home is that planning is the cornerstone of success.

The Formula 1 road project failed because it was done without planning but Kariba Dam has stood to this day even though it was built in the 1950s because there was planning involved before it was built.

However, we are in the electricity mess because people tasked with the role of planning went to sleep - deep slumber for that matter!

You might be wondering as why am belaboring to write about planning when am supposed to be talking about the trillions that have been paid to maize farmers by FRA.

I presume that many of the farmers that cry that Food Reserve Agency (FRA) is not paying them in time do not plan well.

Why should one continue to deal in business for a particular commodity when year-in year-out, they are faced with the same challenges of late payment?

Many of you will give an excuse that they grow maize because it is a staple crop and it has ready market.

You could be partly right in that the commodity indeed has a ready market with a premium price of K65,000 per kg.

But did these farmers know that they could get more benefit if they grew onions, for instance instead of maize?

Let me take you through a simple example which might stimulate thoughts of what you will plant this season.

In Zambia, vegetables, that include tomatoes, onions, cabbage, rape and many others are grown in the dry season from April to around November.

Immediately, the heavens opens up, most of our farmers turn to grow maize and other field crops.

Do farmers know that in some instances, this country imports onions from January to April from South Africa?

The gross margins for onions in most cases is not less the K5,000,000 per hectare as compared to maize gross margins which is around K300,000 and negative in most instances.

The average maize yield per hectare for most of the smallholder farmers is around 2.2 tonnes per hectare.

During the period I have mentioned, we have certain commercial farmers that produce onions using intensive agriculture methods in Lusaka that offload the onions on the market and during this period, one tomato costs around K1,000.

Suppose that you are a farmer that cultivates three hectares of maize and gets 6.6 tonnes of maize.

The total income you would get in November when you could be paid would be K8,580,000 if you sold everything to FRA.

On the other hand, if you decide to grow one hectare of maize for your own consumption from which you would get 44x50kg bags of maize which should be more than enough to feed an average family of six for the whole year.

With the remaining two hectares, you could plant one hectare of soyabeans from which you can harvest 20 x 50kg bags, and the remaining one hectare is divided into two halves; one half is planted with groundnuts on which you could get a yield of 0.5 tonnes and the final half hectare is planted with either tomato or onions. The yield potential or actual yields that farmers get from onions is not less than 20 tonnes per hectare.

If we did the tabulations for the second option, you would not get less than K20 million of net incomes.

Does this compare with the K8,580,000 (gross) which you would only be able to access in November? I do not think so!

Besides, the groundnuts could be used to improve the nutritional status of your household, so does the soyabeans while you would have money throughout the year because these crops ripen at different times.

You would also agree with me that option two avails an opportunity for the farmer to practice crop rotation.

In the last few weeks, I have received so many emails asking me to guide some farmers of what crop they needed to grow this rainy season.

I should state here that in most cases, I have not told anyone what crop they should grow because;

1. I do not know the areas where they practice their agriculture

2. I do not know what inputs/resources is at their disposal

3. I don't know how good they are in terms of agronomic know-how.

For anyone that might want to get advice on the specific crop they want to grow, they need to seek advice from some input suppliers, Ministry of Agriculture extension staff or lead farmers in the area near where they operate from.

I can assure you that I would not give you instructions on emails when I don't have detailed information about your farm.

Additionally, I have been writing about market opportunities for several commodities since March this year.

It is your responsibility as a businessexecutive to conduct a market survey and assess which commodity could be fetching better prices.

In addition, let me advise the farmers that they should learn to have their soils tested from the fields for various elements.

It is not as expensive as we think because a sample for analysis of N, P, K, Ca, Mg, Cu, Fe, Zn, pH, and S costs only K180,000.

Therefore, let me end by stressing a point that as we plant our various crops, let us ensure to plant a 'bumper income', more money in your poketi (pockets).

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