Zambia cultivates more maize than any other crop; it cultivates over 1.2 million hectares of maize every year, and it has become the staple food for the country. The largest number of growers for the crop is the small-scale farmers. Not very long ago (1990), many of the farmers were planting local varieties; that is, open pollinated (OPV) varieties. Agriculture has become a big business in Zambia, and it is an industry whose potential for growth is huge. The largest constraints to the growth of the industry is low productivity, and one of the contributors to low productivity amongst others is low yield potential of OPV seed. Many of the OPV seed on the market have yield potential ranging from 2t/ha to 4t/ha. This means under optimal conditions, that is, with good nutrition, abundance of water and management of pests and diseases, a farmer can get a maximum of eighty (80) bags of maize in a hectare. This is not too good a yield to make money because the yields at which a farmer will break even is 5t/ha (that was before the increase in electricity and fuel costs). The implications are that if all farmers adopted OPV seed for their enterprises, Zambia risks to produce less maize to even fail to feed itself.
The introduction of hybrid seed in 1960 called SR 52 was a breakthrough in the agriculture industry. Open pollinated varieties were introduced in 1969 and the first variety was called ZCA. Currently, we have over forty hybrid seed varieties on the market with yield potential ranging from 6t/ha to about 18t/ha. This is one factor which has contributed to an increase in the average yields for Zambia. Currently, Zambia’s highest average yield attainment was 2,6t/ha and the highest in the region with an exception of South Africa. This is not a mean achievement and we would like to commend the partners in the industry such as the seed and fertilizer companies, crop protection product suppliers, implement suppliers, government, farmers, financial institutions, the media, NGOs, SADC genetic bank, CIMMYT, extension service providers and the consumer at large. There are countries like Zimbabwe whose average yield is 0,9t/ha, Tanzania at 1,3t/ha, Mozambique at 0,9t/ha and Angola at 0,8t/ha who are all falling behind Zambia. The adoption of the use of hybrid seed as an input to improve productivity in Zambia is over eighty per cent of the maize farmers. This is not a mean achievement, which has been achieved over a long period of time. In Zambia, if a farmer has constrained resources and want to grow maize, they will first spend on seed followed by fertilizer and then others will follow. Therefore, any campaign to prevent a farmer from using improved seed varieties is counter development.
The recent information making rounds on social media that one of the high-ranking official in government was insinuating that seed companies are to blame for prevalence of Fall Army Worms (FAW) is unfortunate. I think there are no facts to support the argument and it is not true. The officers at the Ministry of Agriculture, especially the entomology section should quickly move in to educate the high-ranking official on the life cycle of the pest. Indeed, there are certain pests like weevils and large grain borers that can be introduced with maize grain if not well looked after but not FAW.
It is important to note that if that was the case, the introduction could be through eggs or pupa stages of FAW in maize seed. However, the eggs of the FAW only takes between 2 to 3 days to hatch; with this short time to hatch, it would have been possible to find larva or FAW caterpillars in bags of seed maize. The type of FAW that we currently have in Zambia is Spodoptera frugiperda which can survive on maize, sorghum, rice, wheat and sugarcane. However, it is more prevalent on maize than any of the other crops mentioned because maize is ‘favorable’ for it than sugarcane, for instance. It is the same thing with humans, if one was given nshima and a choice of relish comprising kapenta, kalembula, katapa, ibondwe or chicken. Many of us will go for chicken because it is more palatable or appealing to us. The reason the FAW may easily attack hybrid seed than local variety (if ever there has been such a case) is that the former is ‘sweeter’. What we need to understand is that FAW is here to stay because of the way our farming systems are practiced in this country.
The attack of FAW in maize should be handled the same way we handle stalk borers. In our planning, we should always include pesticides for FAW and plan for a minimum of four sprays before the crop matures. Therefore, let us not discourage farmers from using improved seed technology as an input in their farming enterprises because we will be going backwards in our agricultural industry. It is not true that FAW can be introduced with improved seed varieties, besides it is a requirement in the seed industry that the seed is treated with an insecticide and polymers before they are sold. Let us encourage farmers to use the improved technologies if our industry is to growth.
By the way, I have been wondering why that drainage which runs behind Cosmopolitan Mall has a blind ending; the contractor who did that drainage should be asked to complete the works. The drainage drains nowhere and it has contributed to flooding in the area.
The author is the Agribusiness Development Consultant; firstname.lastname@example.org