12 December 2012

Zambia: Agro Sector - Driven By Maize


ON JULY 25, I tackled a somewhat hot issue on the successive Governments' support towards the agricultural support or the lack of it. I opened up the discussion with the following paragraph:

"The first decade of the MMD rule will remain in Zambia's history as wasted years for most of the rural dwellers who became impoverished as the result of lack of Government support towards the agricultural sector."

I went on to look at the Government's neglect of the agricultural sector then rendering the rural inhabitants - most of whom are small-scale farmers - to perpetual beggars of food.

I noted the drastic change with the advent of the second 10-year phase of the MMD, when we saw the retention of the Government support towards the agro sector.

Sadly, amid Government support, the agricultural sector has been driven by the maize cultivation which has been over-supported.

Generally, I noted that our maize is being grown at a great cost because it is being grown even in areas without any comparative advantage for its cultivation and I championed the support of the crops according to their comparative advantages in respective areas.

On August 1, I looked at the Citizens' Economic Empowerment (CEE) and measures the Government has put in place to achieve that.

Comparatively, I looked at the South Africa and Namibia's Black Economic Empowerments (BEEs) noting that ours was the mildest among them all.

For Zambia, while the policy and the law have been in place for about six years now, not much has been achieved in terms of the CEE fund empowering the citizens, as the name entails.

Leaders seem to have given a lip-service to the issue.

I stated that Zambia's Citizens' Economic Empowerment Commission (CEEC), a corporate body created by the CEE Act Number 9 of 2006 to promote the economic empowerment of targeted citizens, instead, seems to have been targeting beneficiaries on political basis.

In the road construction sector, for example, foreigners have continued to dominate despite the availability of the policy to even the field.

According to former Transport, Works, Supply and Communication minister, Yamfwa Mukanga, the category, "where the most lucrative contracts are, is dominated completely by foreign-owned companies."

It is against that backdrop that Mr Mukanga issued a policy statement on July 25, directing the Road Development Agency (RDA) that a minimum of 20 per cent of subcontracted works of all road contracts awarded, should be given to firms with 51 per cent Zambian ownership interest.

Under the arrangement, the RDA should pre-select subcontractors, predefine the works that they will do and make the payment for the work carried out directly to the selected subcontractors.

To ensure balance, the following week I looked at the responsibility of local contractors and noted with concern the poor performance of some Zambian companies contracted to undertake various Government development projects.

On August 15, having just returned from Kenya with some Zambian scientists on a biosafety -related trip, I dedicated sometime and space to biotechnology, zeroing in to Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) issues.

I noted in this award-winning piece that as Kenyan Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister, Margaret Kamar said when we paid a courtesy call on her; Africa has found itself between two conflicting giants on GMO issues.

I veered into a book by Robert Paarlberg, a Betty Freyhof Johnson Professor of Political Science at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, titled: Starved for Science: How Biotechnology is being kept out of Africa.

In that book, Mr Paarlberg notes that although modern science was the main factor in the reduction of rural poverty and prevention of starvation in Asia similar advances in farm sciences - including biotechnology are allegedly being kept out of Africa.

He says the influence from anti-GMO countries comes in four-folds: foreign assistance, the United Nations system, the international commodity markets and the international non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

To fully tackle this issue, on August 22 I advanced the discourse by looking at other views about the GMOs.

I noted that what seemed to give more impetus to those against the GMOs is the absence of certainty about the safety of the GMOs or on the dangers.

Logically, when you are not sure whether the foodstuff you have been served is safe or not, the safest way of handling it is by rejecting it, as opposed to taking chances.

I looked at various possible dangers of using GMO noting that in its document titled, "Weighing the GMO arguments: Against, of 2003," the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) itemises various possible dangers of GMOs to agriculture.

According to About.com Animal rights, part of the New York Times company, studies have already shown that GMOs are dangerous to rats.

A review of 19 studies in which genetically modified soya and maize were fed to mammals showed that a GMO diet often led to liver and kidney problems.

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