IF we truly put our minds to it Zambia could become the bread basket of the region, if not the continent.
Out of the 75million hectares of land, 43million has potential for agriculture production and yet we are using about 6million or just under 14 percent for the purpose. Our national irrigation potential stands more than 2.7m hectares.
These are very impressive figures, but it is a crying shame that agriculture which has so much potential remains in the back waters plodding along at a pace that does not inspire. We entirely agree with the Minister of Agriculture Hon Given Lubinda that diversification holds the key to tremendous promise.
It is however clear that no comprehensive and cohesive agriculture policy that embraces the majority of Zambian small scale farmers has been implemented.
From all indications the Government has envisaged the development of major farming blocks in almost all the Provinces targeting large scale production with incentives of machinery, equipment and tax breaks.
However for as long as long as the majority of farmers are not encompassed through a comprehensive system of crop diversification little will be achieved.
The present concentration on our political crop, maize, will continue to consume huge amounts of resources and effort for very little gain. What is required is a beneficiation agriculture policy that will identify potential and match it with appropriate capital and extension services.
Already we have lost out on coffee production which has sunk to an all time low because Government did not support an effective tree husbandry scheme. Our cotton production has suffered one shock after another due to the lack of a price stabilization scheme.
The once thriving non tradition export programme, which was supported with a training programme, now lives in distant memory.
It is disgraceful that we even have to import most of the agricultural produce sold in our super markets because local farmers do not seem to have the capacity for consistent supply to meet the demands of the many shops around the country.
The Government must challenge our local farmer to produce enough greens to meet the supermarket demand as a start. This will require serious coordination in all the districts where these shops operate. It should be possible to select a number of farmers to produce potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and all manner of crops to meet the demand of these outlets.
The starting point, like in everything else, is to set out a beneficiation scheme that will show farmers that they stand to benefit if they proceed in any particular direction.
For as long as Government appears intent on FISP and the supply of fertilizer to produce maize, there is no incentive to diversify partly because the farmers have no guarantee of a market if they venture into new crops.
We need a creative approach to agriculture. We cannot continue business as usual because circumstances have changed. The weather vagaries are playing havoc with tradition maize belts which are now experiencing drought.
We must identify new crops, identify better ways of motivating the majority peasant farmers to enter into new crops and create markets for them.
For a start can we answer the needs of Shoprite and other shops that want a consistent supply of vegetable. Can somebody at the Ministry of Agriculture take this challenge seriously?
With effort and if we put our minds together we can supply Shoprite locally, but we must first take the challenge seriously and plan to supply.