By Henry Kyambalesa-The decision by President Rupiah Banda’s government to split the Ministry of Agriculture into two government ministries is one of the most absurd decisions a government can make. One would perhaps agree with the split if it was a line Ministry that actually performed the functions of rearing fish and livestock and tending to food crops (including maize, cassava, sorghum, millet, sweet potatoes, beans, wheat, and groundnuts).
This is clearly a decision designed to create sinecures for some of the MMD leaders who have not yet been compensated for their contributions to MMD campaigns. Vice-President George Kunda should not expect Zambians to accept the rationale he has presented to Parliament for the split. It is absolutely unacceptable and irresponsible!
What Zambia needs is a Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security that is designed to advise the Republican President on, and spearhead the implementation of, policies relating to the following: sustainable agricultural development and long-term food security – including the provision of agricultural incentives, support to agribusiness establishments and agricultural research centers, damming rivers, and construction of irrigation canals; and coordination of national programs and activities pertaining to agriculture and food security with those of the private sector and both provincial and municipal governments.
Such a Ministry should support all kinds of agricultural pursuits and endeavors, including dairy farming, ranching, fish farming, horticulture, and crop husbandry.
Splitting such a Ministry into the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives and the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries will only contribute to the usual duplication of effort that characterizes the current structure of government. For example, cooperatives can be established by growers of food crops as well as farmers in the livestock and fisheries industry – the split in the Ministry will mean that each one of the two new ministries will separately handle this function!
Instead of creating sinecures, we should be thinking about how Zambia can attain sustainable agricultural development and long-term food security through such measures and initiatives as the following:
1) Zambia National Service: We should fully and promptly revive and revitalize the Zambia National Service (ZNS) production camps, which should accept enrollment by Zambian citizens on a voluntary basis, as well as promote and bolster agricultural production in the camps through greater financial support and generous conditions of service for ZNS personnel. Vacated refugee camps dotted across the country should also be utilized for agriculture-related training, crop production, and other vocations to be facilitated by a cadre of skilled and professional trainers.
2) Provincial Agricultural Estates: We should require all provinces to create revenue-generating agricultural schemes, and to use a portion of the output of the schemes to maintain their own local food reserves.
3) District Councils: District councils which currently run municipal farms as part of their commercial undertakings should be encouraged to continue running such farms.
4) School Production Units: All educational and training institutions should be encouraged to join in the nation’s quest for greater agricultural output and food security. In this endeavor, we should require each and every student and trainee to actively participate in agriculture-based production units at their schools, colleges and universities. Their participation in such units should be graded and noted in their testimonials.
5) The Military and Civil Police: Police camps and military barracks and garrisons should also be expected to initiate and maintain agricultural production units.
6) Agricultural Incentives: We should provide for attractive agricultural incentives to boost both small-scale and large-scale farmers. As provided for in the World Trade Organization’s Uruguay Round accord concluded in December 1993 in Punta del Este, Uruguay, WTO member-countries’ quest for enhanced food security precedes the need for progressive reduction of governmental support for, and protection of, agricultural activities in order to enhance market access and competitiveness internationally.
7) Agricultural Inputs: We should promote efficiency in processing, sourcing, and distribution of agricultural inputs by providing for informal trade in agricultural inputs among farmers, and the creation of a “Farmers’ Holding Company” by farmers (through a low-interest loan, if needed), to supply low-cost inputs nationwide at zero value-added tax—including seeds, seedlings, fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, stock feeds, and grain bags. The cooperating farmers should assume ownership of the company as founding shareholders, and the company should preferably be registered and operated as a corporate entity. Besides, we should encourage farmers to engage in direct and informally initiated farmer-to-farmer trade in low-cost and organic agricultural inputs—including compost, chicken-droppings and cattle-dung manures—and young birds, animals and species of fish intended for breeding.
8) Agriculture-Related Imports: All the various kinds of imports that are currently exempted from customs duty should continue to enjoy the duty-free status—including fertilizer, irrigation equipment, irrigation pumps, tractors, machinery for soil preparation and cultivation, harvesting and threshing machinery, poultry machinery, fungicides, and herbicides.
9) Marketing of Produce: We should create—in collaboration with the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU), the Millers Association of Zambia (MAZ), the Zambia Cooperative Federation (ZCF), and other relevant stakeholders—a marketing system for all kinds of agricultural produce designed to provide for the following: direct sourcing of such produce from farmers by millers, retailers and other industrial buyers; and procurement of unsold produce by the Food Reserve Agency at wholesale prices for preservation and/or distribution to government institutions like boarding schools, colleges and hospitals.
10) Irrigation Schemes: We should actively seek to create and maintain irrigation schemes at tax-payer expense, including the damming of rivers and construction of irrigation canals nationwide. We need to promote all-season crop production—January through December.
11) Other Imperatives: We should create feeder roads and maintain old ones nationwide, improve training conducted in agricultural research centers, provide for low-interest loans for erecting secure storage facilities, and extend incentives to agribusinesses and canners and processors of agricultural produce.