By Gershom Ndhlovu
Go to Mufumbwe, M’kushi, Lundazi, Kalomo, Masaiti, Chongwe, Mpika and indeed any other place, maize grows on big and heavily mechanised farms, on small patches of land where people toil with hoes and other basic implements as well as in the backyard of houses right in Kabulonga in Lusaka, Riverside in Kitwe and Highridge in Kabwe.
For those who are lucky to live near streams and rivers, maize grows all the year round in madimba alongside vegetables such as rape, cabbage and tomatoes.
What is surprising, if not shocking, is the fact that the Zambian government in particular and the people in general have not taken the growing of maize for what it is—an important crop that can earn them money not only on the local market but also across borders.
Whatever the case, there is a market for maize, if not locally, at least in neighbouring Congo DR where commercial agriculture will not normalise very soon if the political situation especially in the east of the country where there has been constant fighting for the last 12 years or so, is anything to go by.
There is equally growing demand for maize in
With an extra incentive to maize growers, what is required is a bit more organisation in the manner grain is exported to neighbouring countries rather than in the haphazard manner it is done with every Jim and Jack just waking up in the morning and deciding to run across the border with a bag or two of maize.
For peasant farmers who have historically produced the bulk of Zambia’s maize cumulatively, there has simply been no motivation for them in the last 18 years in which they have been subjected, first to promissory notes, and later to the ravages of pestilential briefcase businessman who offer them dambo soap, coarse salt and useless pieces of clothes contemptuously known as salaula, in exchange for bags of maize.
This means of exchange deprives the peasants the opportunity to earn the much needed cash for which they should pay for fertiliser and pay off agro-loans and to also pay for other requirements such as school fees and other little luxuries of life such as radios and battery operated TV sets.
For all its inefficiencies, at least the defunct National Agricultural Marketing Board, (Namboard), reached the remotest parts of the country scouring for the last bag of maize which went on to be stored in its silos in Monze,
In came the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) whose task was basically to buy maize from some centres where farmers have to take the commodity to, an onerous task for those living in outlying areas. All it did was to kill the peasant farmers will to cultivate maize. They instead opted to cultivate tobacco and cotton for which they were paid instantly.
Travelling along the
The idea of the Crop Marketing Agency (CMA) which the late President Levy Mwanawasa wanted to replace the FRA with was probably a good idea which, however, died at conception. May be the CMA was going to bring new impetus to crop, particularly maize, marketing.
On the part of government, identifying that there is a yawning demand for maize in Congo and other food-deficient parts of Africa, government would do a lot by reviving the Nitrogen Chemicals of Zambia (NCZ) in Kafue to supply the equally yawning demand for fertiliser among farmers for maize growing.
Agriculture in general and maize growing in particular could provide the basis for the much talked about economic diversification if government puts in place sound policies, systems as well as infrastructure for that to be achieved.
I hope that as Agriculture Minister General Brian Chituwo announced last week that the country expects a good maize yield is real rather than a flash in the pan and that the country will learn lessons to manage yields and also re-organise its agri-business for the benefit of all involved.
I have just finished reading a book entitled
The recurrent theme in Butcher’s book is how
This grim outlook is not only typical to the
Who would know that Lufwanyama is the source of some of the world’s best emeralds when there is nothing to show for it in the area?