We woke up to a rude shock this season when God refused to ‘spoon feed’ our agriculture production by giving us less rains throughout the production season.
I am sure He has been wondering the type of people we are – so wasteful! In so many years we have been having more than adequate rainfall and have been allowing water to just go to waste. You may be aware that we shamelessly are sitting on forty per cent of all waters found in the SADC region. This water is annually allowed to wastefully run into the Indian Ocean where it mixes and becomes salty water. Salty water cannot be used for agriculture in its raw form; you have to purify it and the process is so costly. All of the water we have access to annually, we have only been using a fraction of it on irrigation. Zambia is one country that should not be crying so loudly even if the country was to experience two droughty seasons back to back. We have so much water and potential such that people from countries like Israel, Libya and Egypt do wonder what type of people we are. Irrigated agriculture is the only way to go. Out of the enormous potential we have of land that is irrigable, we have only utilised less than 1.5 per cent of that; this is so embarrassing and annoying at the same time. To effectively improve our productivity, as well as production including diversification, we need to invest in irrigation infrastructure. We should look for resources to develop irrigation infrastructure today.
In this country, we have seed varieties for maize for instance, that have yield potential in excess of 18 MT per hectare. There is no farmer to the best of my recollection that has achieved yields of over 15mt on dry land regardless of how much inputs such as fertiliser they have used, controlling of weeds and diseases. Most of them have been getting an average of 7mt for commercial farmers and 10mt for those using irrigation. It is very possible to get 20mt if one used the inputs effectively and supplemented with irrigation. The irrigation will also allow farmers to produce crops throughout the year unlike currently where we only becoming business persons in December to March and the rest of the year, we are passengers. Agriculture is very a serious and risk business which will be there as long as we remain alive. The past production season has been so challenging especially for us that have fields in central and southern parts of the country; we have been left crying and vulnerably exposed to hunger risk. Many of us do not know how we shall survive because the few that are keeping livestock like cattle have also been exposed to the risk of foot and mouth disease. I can assure farmers that as we get to the dry seasons, there will be more outbreaks of animal diseases because there will be very few watering points that will remain with water. This means many animals including those from kraals that could have outbreaks of this disease will converge at such points and transmit disease to other kraals. This is not to forget that even wild animals like buffaloes with be mingling with our livestock and we know that such animals carry so many diseases that can easily be transmitted to our livestock. This country has so much natural water bodies such as rivers and lakes. I think the government should start plans to enable development of irrigation infrastructure such as canals. Huge canals should be developed to channel water from such water bodies like lakes to productive areas. We also need to build several dams especially in areas like Southern province which can be used for watering livestock as well as allow the farmers to irrigate their crops. Just like they have done to enforce the ban on exportation of maize, the government should immediate waive the tax on borehole. Actually, this should not be in our vocabulary as we endeavor to develop the irrigation infrastructure in the country. This tax is so retrogressive, backwards and whoever thought of imposing it on people is an enemy of development. This tax will make farmers stop producing crops such as wheat and many of them will go into plantation crops. Very soon if the government does not waive it, we shall start importing flour like we used to some time back. Don’t say I never warned you because I have already seen some farmers disinvesting from field crops. Utuntu mwebantu utuntu.
This author is an Agribusiness Development Consultant. email@example.com/SM