Zambian Minister: “The only sector that assuredly alleviates poverty is agriculture. Our focus is to grow this industry that is the future of this country.”
Zambia’s premier agricultural trade fair Agritech Expo takes place on14-16 April at the Gart Research Centre, Chisamba. In the run-up to the important event, Spintelligent interviewed the Zambian Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, the Honourable Given Lubinda, on various issues confronting the sector. Excerpts:
Honourable minister, you said in an interview recently that the government wants to transform agriculture in Zambia. Can you share your vision with us?
Agriculture is the future of Zambia. We have depended on the extractive industries over the past 50 years. I usually ask the question: Will copper see us through another 50 years? My categorical answer is NO. Copper has brought us where we are but the only sector that assuredly alleviates poverty is agriculture. Our focus is to grow this industry that is the future of this country.
Are there particular farming sectors that are earmarked for investment?
For us to develop the agricultural industry, there are a number of sectors that we will have to invest in and implement programmes.
(a) The Farmer Input Support Programme or FISP. The Cabinet has approved the expansion of the FISP electronic voucher system in the 2016/17 season. This means that the e-voucher system will expand beyond the 13 trial districts in which it was implemented in the 2015/16 season. We are happy with the results of the pilot phase in the 13 districts where we managed to weed out 20,000 ghost beneficiaries; people who were not intended beneficiaries.
(b) Agricultural diversification: Our focus is to encourage farmers diversify crops and livestock. With crops, we want to encourage them grow protein-rich leguminous crops such as soya beans, cow peas, beans and ground nuts. Even in the maize cluster we will encourage them to grow orange maize, which is more nutritious.
(c) Promotion of irrigation: As a response to climate change the government is investing heavily in irrigation. Zambia has a potential to irrigate 2.5 million hectares of land but so far only 10% of that is under irrigation. The government will open up 6,000 hectares of land for irrigation. Already, 11,000 hectares of land has been opened up in Lusitu, Mwomboshi and Musakashi.
(d) Mechanisation: The government will soon start making available farming implements to small scale farmers. We want to transform agriculture but this transformation will not happen with a hand hoe. Mechanization will help us achieve agricultural revolution.
How important are partnerships with the private sector to move agriculture
It is the position of the government to let the private sector lead agricultural production. The role of the government is to give the private sector opportunities and an enabling environment. The reasoning is simple: The private sector has the ability to invest and produce more efficiently than the government can ever do.
You accompanied President Lungu to last year’s Agritech Expo – what were your most lasting impressions of the event?
I must say that I was impressed with the quality of organisation and the level of participation by a wide variety of people from several countries and agricultural sub-sectors in the Expo. It tells you that farmers are willing to develop themselves so that they can produce efficiently. And platforms for learning, networking and information sharing such as the Agritech Expo are very important in achieving our goals.
The agriculture sector is currently facing several challenges, including dry conditions, how important is an event such as the Agritech Expo to gather the agri community to discuss solutions and to support each other?
Indeed there are several challenges from climate change, to high cost of borrowing as well as low mechanization. We must commend the Zambia National Farmers’ Union for coming up with events like the Agritech Expo where farmers can meet, share experiences and information, as well as learn good agronomy tactics that can help them improve productivity. They say, if you want to walk fast, walk alone but if you want to walk far, walk together. I believe that when farmers meet at this year’s Expo they will be able to deal with their challenges.
What is your message to the Zambian farmer for 2016?
We need to increase productivity in agriculture, especially among small scale farmers. The vast majority of them produce between one and 2.5 metric tonnes of maize per hectare yet they have access to seeds that have a yield potential of over 10 metric tonnes per hectare. This is why small scale farmers are still trapped in poverty. As the government, we believe that for the small scale farmers to come out of poverty they should produce at least six metric tonnes per hectare, but that will only happens when they are able to produce efficiently.
Agritech Expo is organised by Spintelligent, leading Cape Town-based trade exhibition and conference organiser, and the African office of Clarion Events Ltd, based in the UK. More information on the event at: www.agritech-expo.com
Photo: Minister Given Lubinda at a public event (© Mweban )