ZAMBIA must boost and diversify the agriculture sector as a sustainable remedy for the flagging economic fortunes exacerbated by the ravaging Covid-19
The economy has waned on many fronts because of a number of factors with key fundamentals oscillating towards the negative angle.
Evidently, the inflation rate is unfavourable, shooting to 24.6 percent in June from 23.2 percent in May while the exchange rate is at a frightening K22.60 to US$1.
Bank lending rates are not attractive either, as the private sector players cannot access capital to expand their enterprises.
The panacea, therefore, is to improve the agriculture sector through diversification from maize mono-cropping to a variety of crops such as beans, groundnuts, potatoes, cassava, millet, sorghum and soya beans.
It is also important to promote growing of fruits such as oranges, bananas, guavas as well as cash crops which include tea, cotton and tobacco.
Government should, therefore, support the growing of variety of crops instead of focusing on maize which is heavily subsidised through the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP).
The state should start by establishing agriculture clusters throughout the country, deploying resources to specific developed areas.
For instance, Mbala and Senga Hill could be a cluster for growing beans which requires incentivising, networking as well as market access.
In this area, people grow beans from time immemorial and it would be helpful to establish a cluster to assist small-scale farmers with machinery, networking through well-coordinated cooperatives and market access.
If this is done, these small-scale farmers could easily graduate to commercial level and extend the cluster to Isoka, Mafinga and Nakonde districts.
Similarly, Luapula province could be have a cluster for cassava, mangoes, bananas and tea because of the favourable weather, particularly in Kawambwa, Mwense, Nchelenge and Chiengu districts.
Traditionally, people in Luapula Province grow cassava and this could be promoted through incentives and facilitating networking as well as market access. The area is also suitable for rice growing.
Eastern Province should be clustered for groundnuts, cotton and tobacco while Western province can receive incentives for rice and mango growing.
Agriculture is a sure way out as it is the largest employer and thus can boost employment levels and provide food for local consumption and export.
Livestock sub-sector also requires full development; piggery, poultry, goat-rearing are begging!
The sector also provides raw materials to the manufacturing industry and can provide materials for biofuels.
Zambia has vast arable land and fresh waters for damming and irrigation which have not been utilised, yet the country has been importing peanut butter from South Africa and widely sold in Shoprite outlets.
The country does not need foreign investors in the agriculture sector, hence Government should incentivize and development robust agriculture extension services.
There has been too much concentration on mining, which is a wasting asset; this is the time to diversify to agriculture!