ZAMBIANS can only hope and pray that the current heavy rains in all parts of the country can continue up to the end of March. For farmers, more rains means more of the staple food maize. The question is whether the rains can last until the crop reaches maturity.
As of now the country has 1.3 million metric tonnes of maize stocks in strategic reserves which are expected to take us to the next harvest season in August this year.
As the maize belt shifts from the south to the north because of the effects of El Nino on the weather patterns, it is now inevitable that farmers in the Copperbelt, Luapula, North-Western, Northern and Muchinga provinces come to realize that fate is smiling on them and that farming is big business.
For years the country has depended on Southern and Central provinces to feed the nation. Now the onus is on the North to prepare for this important task of ensuring that Zambia has enough maize for local consumption and export.
You can never go wrong with maize. For example the Government, through the Food Reserve Agency, has signed contracts with 91 milling companies to supply them with about 100,000 tonnes of maize per month.
Zimbawe just across the Zambezi River is a yawning market for maize. Our neighbours were hoping the FRA would supply them with all their needs but alas the Zambian Government has stopped maize imports in view of the uncertain future of food security.
But Government has encouraged farmers who still have maize for sale in reserve to export it to any country of their choice.
This is a lot of money which could go into the pockets of hardworking farmers if they had this maize stashed somewhere and they decided to export it to neighboring DR Congo or Zimbabwe. It is a great opportunity for our farmers to underpin the economy at a time copper has let us down.
The entire SADC region is a food deficit area this year and probably for a long time to come because of drought conditions driven by climate change. Zambian farmers in the North can take advantage of this rare opportunity and engage in serious small scale, emergent and commercial farming activity.
With the price of maize set to rise as demand increases, surely our farmers can never go wrong with maize. All they need is to plan ahead and work with Government and the banking sector to ensure extension services are up to scratch and bankers are ready and willing to invest in this highly profitable venture.
It is about time Zambia walked the talk that agriculture can be used effectively to diversify this economy. We have the human capital, inexhaustible land, good rainfall in many parts of the country and Government assurance of extension support services.
With the hitherto maize producing giants South Africa and Zimbabwe grappling with deadly effects of El Nino, Zambia can certainly become the new food basket of southern Africa. No wonder devasted white farmers from the south are flocking north to test the ground in Mkushi, Serenje, Mpika and Kasama where they hope to start afresh.
With careful planning and determination, Zambia can rise from the ashes of mining retrenchments and the Kwacha doldrums to face the future with certainty. Many nations have risen from the canvass to become great again. Rwanda, almost consumed by civil war a few years ago, is now an economic miracle.
Zambia can do the same through agriculture.