20 December 2012

Zambia: Luano District Creation Elates Chiefs

Sometime in September, Senior Chief Mboroma of the Lala people in the Luano Valley (at that time, Mboroma Chiefdom was part of Mkushi District), had overtly made it known that he wished for the creation of a district that would be more closely knit with the Luano Valley chiefdoms of Mboroma, Chembe and Mbosha.

Two months later in early December, President Michael Sata announced the creation of a new district called Luano, which was to comprise the valley chiefdoms as well as the semi-plateau chiefdoms of Kanyeshya and Kaundula.

Two possible conclusions can be drawn from this scenario; one is that the chiefs may have read the PF script pertaining to creation of new districts to enable de-centralisation, the other being that of the President fulfilling the aspiration of the locals of these areas.

Nonetheless, the move to declare Luano as a separate district has received widespread acclaim in the 'parent district' Mkushi, from residents from all the social stratas, from local leadership to the common man.

"The creation of Luano as a new district is long overdue and welcome idea that offers more promise to accelerating development of that district," says current Mkushi District Commissioner (DC) Christopher Chibuye.

"Our region in the Luano Valley and semi-plateau will develop much faster now that Luano has been made into a district," Chief Mboroma said.

"President Sata deserves to be commended for this move as it is a progressive and practical measure to ease the transition into full scale decentralisation system," observes Chalata Ward Councillor James Nshimba of the opposition MMD.

The birth of this new district comes against the background of what many would describe as 'nagging challenges that are hindering plenty of potential'.

According to data obtained from Mkushi District administration, most of the mineral ore such as manganese, gold and copper is located in the domains of chiefs Mboroma, Chembe and Kaneshya.

The location pattern is largely identical with the gemstones such as aquamarine, tamarind, amethyst and ruby, with the three chiefdoms being prominent.

According to data obtained from the office of the Mkushi District Commissioner, only 0.02 per cent or 3.1km square of Mkushi's 14,688 km square land total, is undergoing mining activities.

Most of this mining is being done in areas of the new district, either as small-scale or by mining proprietors with prospecting licence, on customary lands which constitute 61.7 per cent or 9,140km square of Mkushi's total land size.

Owing to this, it is not uncommon to notice the abandoned mining camps, sometimes with the equipment left behind after the 'prospectors' have decided that they have extracted what they wanted, namely in Mboroma areas.

Reports of illegal mining activities are also said to be rampant in Chembe, with the community literally benefiting nothing from mines in form of social responsibility.

As the mineral potential is largely concentrated in Luano District, the issue of consolidated mineral wealth can never be better underscored than now, bearing in mind that this district will have its own administrative wing as the nation marches on the course of decentralisation.

In the nation's current economic scenario, agriculture has continued to gain prominence as a major economic activity and Government has consistently made it very clear that agriculture must be developed in every district.

Luano District's semi-plateau areas of Kaneshya and Kaundula have over the years proved that they can compete with the parent district Mkushi in terms of horticulture, livestock and fish farming.

According to data obtained from Mkushi District Agriculture Coordinating Office (DACO), the agriculture camps and cooperatives based in these semi-plateau areas have been far more active than the those based in the valley chiefdoms of Mboroma, Chembe and Mbosha.

Data at Mkushi DACO further shows that out of the Mkushi's current six agriculture blocks, the least active of these was the one that encompassed the valley areas and this was a major factor that posed as a major challenge in the distribution of FISP (Farmer Input Support Programme) inputs to farmers in that area.

But one cannot deny that the new district has as much agriculture potential as any other district, bearing in mind that a substantial proportion of Mkushi's 75km square (0.51 per cent) total water expanse, flows through the localities of Luano District in form of Lunsemfwa River and its many stream tributaries.

Crops such as maize, groundnuts and soya beans have so far done well in Kaneshya and Kaundula areas, and there is a growing shift towards cotton farming in Kaundula area over the past two farming seasons (data from Mkushi DACO).

These two chiefdoms have performed fairly well in livestock too, as 7,000 out of about 49,000 cattle in Mkushi District, are based in Chief Kaneshya's Old Mkushi area. (data from Mkushi Livestock Management and Veterinary Department).

Although geographical texture of the terrain has over the years been cited by residents of Luano Valley as the major reason that hinders extensive farming, there are farmers in Mboroma, Chembe and Mbosha chiefdoms who have, to some degree, been growing sorghum, maize, sugarcane, citrus fruits and most notably, bananas.

This ought to serve as clear indicator that the soils of these areas are not barren per se, but the issue to be tackled here is that of improved organisation of farming clubs for purpose of receiving State initiatives such as FISP, as well as infusing the principle of farming as a business/livelihood amongst the farmers of these areas.

Needless to say, but the Luano Valley chiefdoms have been perennial recipients of relief food from Mkushi's Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) allocation under the Office of the Vice-President.

Howver, it must be worth mentioning that a former Cabinet minister, Abel Chambeshi, had announced plans in mid 2012, to set up an investment firm called Chembe and Bolton Ltd, in Chief Chembe's area.

Mr Chambeshi, who served in various portfolios during MMD regimes, said that his firm intended to fuse in capital inputs worth at least $1million, to engage in agriculture activities such as bananas, goats, pineapples and citrus fruits in Chief Chembe.

Government has also been making frantic efforts to enhance the potential of tourism as major income generator.

The new district is not lacking in tourism potential as it is endowed with some of the most breathtaking scenery, especially in the valley areas, with tourist attractions such as hot springs, mountain and caves, as well as waterfalls which are largely unheralded.

The unique scenery of 'untamed nature', truly has the potential to arouse a hypnotic effect on visitors to these areas.

To add to this gift of nature, much of Mkushi's 876 square km Game Reserve Land (5.1 per cent of the parent district Mkushi), is within the new district and this brings to mind areas such as Tumbwe in Mbosha, as well as Mkushi's largest Game Management Area (GMA) in Mboroma (data from Mkushi ZAWA (Zambia Wildlife Authority).

To chart a way forward towards accelerating development of the new district, infrastructure easily comes to mind as being among the most pertinent issues to address.

Mkushi's District Commissioner Mr Chibuye, acknowledges the need for extensive road network improvements and construction, for both the semi-plateau and the valley areas.

Drawing on anecdote from his experience when his car was stuck in mud for more than five hours on his way to Chembe before being pulled out by Zambia Army officers, Mr Chibuye believes that much development will accelerate if roads in the new district are made more accessible.

To this observation, Chief Mboroma adds that there must be accelerated efforts to ensure that administrative structures are put in place in the new district.

Senior Chief Mboroma believes that as the new district deserves its own administration, it is cardinal to ensure that the Ministry of Mines, as well as some tourism related office, are permanently represented in the district administration team.

"This may help to address the issue of illegal mining activities," says the chief.

And in addition, the current Mkushi South Member of Parliament (MP) Sidney Chisanga (MMD) observes that an office to specifically oversee matters of tourism is imperative as there is need to explore and market the tourism potential of these areas.

Regarding agriculture, the Mkushi DC believes that the pronouncement of the new district would impact positively on the organisational aspect of agriculture in the new district as this would lead to several new agriculture camps and blocs being formed.

As this new district embarks on a course for development, much can be learned from the 'parent district Mkushi' even in the aspect pertaining to the well-being of the environment.

Environmental protection is a cardinal issue whenever or wherever accelerated development is being effected as a school of thought argues that for development to be sustainable, the environment must be sustained.

In this era of climate change causing global warming which in turn is believed to be linked to the degradation of the carbon sinks provided by the forests, there is need to ensure that nature is not sacrificed completely at the expense of gigantic development projects.

The notable exception for gigantic development projects may be the expansion of the Lunsemfwa Power Hydro-electric (LHP) Grid, since this energy company already has its plant in Kaneshya area.

It must be borne in mind that a total 510.7 km square (or 3.5 per cent) of the 'parent district Mkushi', is forestry land, and the Forestry Department in Mkushi has in the past years singled out Nyenje area in Chief Kaundula as being among the Forest Reserve areas faced with illegal settlements as well as deforesting.

That a sizeable expanse of Mkushi's forest land lies in the new district, presents Luano District with a fresh start towards prudent managing of environmental issues, with the careful regard for proportion in the 'Development versus Environmental sustenance' argument.

With the wealth potential that this new district is capable of generating, it is hard to imagine that its residents would be living in poverty amidst wealth in the near future, especially if they can match Government's commitment towards laying the ground for development.

One can only hope that the quote from the late USA President JF Kennedy resonates amongst residents of this new district.

"Ask not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" and why so, because the input from local residents is not far removed from ensuring long term development for any area.

Incidentally, according to the latest statistics from Mkushi's 2010 census records, the areas in Luano District should have a collective population of 35,846 residents, of whom 15,526 are above 18 years old.

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