ALTHOUGH agriculture occupies a significant share of Zambia’s economy, achieving rapid growth remains a major concern.
Diversification of agricultural production has frequently been cited as a means of increasing agricultural income and thereby improving the agricultural conditions.
Many farmers secure relief in times of agricultural distress by turning to the production of new crops or by increasing their production of products that were relatively unimportant in their operations.
As such, agricultural diversification towards high-value crops can potentially increase farm income, especially in a province such as North-Western where demand for high value crop products has been increasing more quickly than that for staple crops such as maize.
North-Western Province’s agriculture is dominated by smallholder farmers and agriculture experts have long debated the ability of smallholders to diversify into high risk value crops.
The diversification of production with a strong component of the staple food for local consumption plays a key role in reducing hunger and poverty among smallholders.
Furthermore, it is important to mention that the agricultural sector could be the main source of employment opportunities despite the mining industry being the mainstay of the province’s economic growth.
As a result, the consumption patterns have diversified towards high value agricultural commodities such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, poultry, fish and processed foods.
This demand shift is underpinned by sustained income growth and a boom in the mining activities.
To this effect, the Government has embarked on the diversification programme that will focus livestock, fisheries and other high value crops.
To support the Government’s efforts in the diversification programme, the Japan International Cooperation (JICA) supports about 120 villages in crop enterprise, livestock and fisheries.
The Government in conjunction with JICA has disbursed a total of K1.8 million for the 2013/2014 farming seasons under the Participatory Village Development in Isolated Areas (PAVIDIA).
Under the programme, farmers are given grants to procure farming inputs and agriculture implements.
North-Western Province acting Provincial Agricultural Coordinator Derrick Simukanzye points out that the Government has disbursed the funds under the PAVIDIA programme for the current farming season in crop enterprise, livestock and fisheries.
“We are handling 120 villages between Solwezi and Kasempa.We are running a project called PAVIDIA, a programme supported by JICA which supports farmers in crop enterprise, livestock and fisheries,” Mr Simukanzye said.
He said the farmers are given some grants to buy farming inputs ranging from soya beans, maize, rice, fish farming, rearing chickens and goats.
“We give some grants to farmers in the range of K4,000 and K15,000 so that they can buy the farming inputs they need…we get farmers that are doing soya beans, maize, rice, fish farming, rearing of chickens and goats,” he said.
Apart from this, the Government has intensified the Farmers Input Support Programme (FISP) and a total of 60,340 farmers are expected to benefit.
About 5,756 tonnes of D compound fertiliser was delivered to the targeted farmers with about 550.8 tonnes of seeds for the 2013/2014 farming season.
The Government also distributed 36.6 tonnes of rice and about 30 tonnes of groundnuts to the farmers.
The total allocation for the top dressing fertiliser is about 5,991 tonnes.
Other notable projects in the province include the promotion of high value crops project in Mutanda being undertaken by the Lumwana Mine.
The mine is also financing the farmers with soft loans in three chiefdoms where farmers are given some funds to conduct training through the ministry of Agriculture.
The province has also made positive strides with regard to the development of the livestock sector.
Provincial Minister Nathaniel Mubukwanu pointed out that the Government would spend K5.4 million on the construction of a regional veterinary laboratory and breeding centres in North-Western province.
This is aimed at eradicating livestock diseases and improving the quality of livestock products in North-Western Province. Mr Mubukwanu said the regional livestock laboratory would be constructed in Solwezi while, the breeding centre would be established in Kanyama in Mwinilunga district at a cost of K1.9 million.
The minister said the Government had recognised the importance and the potential of the agriculture sector to economic development saying that the projects embarked on by the state was aimed at promoting the diversification programme.
The regional laboratory once completed this year would help in the diagnoses of livestock diseases in the province thereby, supporting economic growth.
“The construction of the regional veterinary laboratory has reached an advanced stage and it will be milestone in the eradication of livestock diseases in the province.
“We have 12 livestock centres in Mwinilunga, Chavuma, Zambezi and Kabompo and all these are going to be equipped with deep tanks for the prevention of diseases and conducting demonstration in animal husbandry,” he said.
The diversification project in the province was moving on well as evidenced by the construction of two breeding centres in Mwinilunga district which has been restocked at a cost of K1.9 million.
Mr Mubukwanu said that the Government was also encouraging fish farming at its centre in Kasempa district under the diversification programme.
Apart from this, the province was producing maize, pineapples, rice and groundnuts.
He believes that if the agriculture sector was well supported and developed it would be able to transform the region and consequently become the hub for food production.
He assured the people of North Western Province of the Government commitment in developing the various developmental programmes.
It is also important to point out that the Government was seriously supporting the irrigation system in the province as a way of encouraging farming throughout the year.
The International Voluntary Service (SVI) and other organisations in the province have joined hands in helping farmers in honey and rice production.
YamBEEJI Rice and Honey Products chief executive officer Chibbonta Chilala said his company would like to help the small-scale farmers to draw the business plan to meet the huge demand.
“We have a big market for the rice it’s just that the tender and payment structures do not support the Small and Medium Entrepreneurs (SMEs) with limited cash flows. The production has been dwindling for the past three years due to floods,” he said.
The firm is looking at forming strong multi-stakeholders network to create a balance in all value chains.