19 December 2012

Zambia: Agro Sector - Key to the Future

The agriculture sector plays a crucial role in stimulating economic growth and ensuring the attainment of national food security for any nation.

In Zambia the success of the agriculture sector sets in motion the efforts towards attaining and sustaining national economic growth.

The Zambian Government has over the years been heavily subsidising the agriculture sector as a way of ensuring that the country attains national food security.

Although some experts say there is need for Government to come up with deliberate policies which would protect the agriculture and other sectors.

They say agriculture which has for decades been the source of non-diminishing resources is a pillar of the diversification of the country's economy from copper dependence.

Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Emmanuel Chenda says Government has continued with subsidies on the food production in the country which started in 2003 to ensure that national food security was attained and make both small-scale and commercial farmers self-reliant by selling their produce.

Mr Chenda said although the country has over the years faced challenges in making farming a self-reliant industry, it has attained national food security.

He said that what the country's agriculture industry required was coming up with value addition industries so that the farmers could provide primary resources needed.

Produce should be locally produced before meeting the needs of various industries and the export market, unlike a scenario where maize is being exported without any value addition.

There is a huge market now being created by the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has a larger section of its population now facing staple food crisis after South Africa suddenly stopped maize exports to that country offering a trading opportunity for Zambia.

"As Government we want to formalise maize exports to the country so that as a country we can get the much needed foreign exchange and Government revenues but what we need is value addition to our agriculture produce in order to maximise the country's gains from the agriculture industry," Mr Chenda said.

This year 2,852,687 tonnes of maize were harvested by farmers throughout the country beating the national maize requirement by far.

Agriculture and Livestock Permanent Secretary Siazongo Siakalenge said K1,321,136,649,000 had been disbursed to farmers who supplied maize to the FRA.

Mr Siakalenge said the balance of K34,520,251,000 which was outstanding by then would be disbursed soon to pay all the remaining farmers.

National Food and Nutrition Commission (NFNC) chief nutritionist Freddie Mubanga says the country is on the right track as far as improving the general agricultural sector output and attaining national food security.

The country needed to adequately address the country's nutritional needs through agriculture diversification to end the national food security bias towards promoting carbohydrates and energy foods.

Zambia has over the recent past been recording a bumper harvest of maize, cassava and rice crops whose production was being promoted by the Government which every year buys the farmers harvest of the crops.

The NFNC is optimistic that the Government would use the newly signed Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) to attract investors to develop fish farming, livestock farming, horticultural and value addition in the agriculture sector.

Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa chief executive officer Chungu Mwila says Zambia is centrally located and in a better position to use the export of agriculture products to support the food-insecure communities in Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) region promoting food security.

Mr Mwila said the overall food and nutrition security in the region shows a deficit of about 603,000 tonnes of its cereals.

United Nations Economic Commission for Africa executive secretary Carlos Lopes says though Zambia is doing relatively well in its economic indicators, the absence of key growth catalysts is a source of concern.

Dr Lopes says it is worrying that Zambia has remained dependant on copper exports and has a high production cost, poor infrastructure, as well as costly and unreliable rail services.

The agriculture sector has immense opportunities for sustainable development, given the prevailing macroeconomic and political stability, favorable business environment, foreign investor goodwill and rich natural resources.

Dr Lopes advises the Zambian Government to intensify making agriculture a key role in economic diversification apart from seeing to it that fiscal reforms enhance domestic resource mobilisation.

The Government has started undertaking a series of programmes to sustain national food security and ensure agriculture sector is placed in a position to stimulate wealth creation through linkages with other sectors of the economy.

Efforts have also been made towards the development of farm blocs, technological transfer and the development of arable land.

Agriculture Deputy Minister Luxon Kazabu says under the CAADP agenda, Zambia is in the process of developing investment plans intended to provide an appropriate strategic framework for the agriculture sector during the period 2013 to 2017.

Mr Kazabu says once the plans are developed, they would provide strategic direction towards addressing key issues in the agriculture sector and bridge gaps that have been identified.

The Government wants to create more jobs in the agriculture sector.

The donor community should support the Government's quest to transform the agriculture sector to make it more responsive to the country's development agenda.

The Government is now set to position itself to use the agricultural sector's power to transform the economy by addressing food security, raising rural incomes and supporting the emancipation of women and children.

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