The Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) has urged Zambians not to panic over the dry spells in some parts of the country this farming season, promising that farmers will grow early maize if hunger befalls the country.

ZNFU president Jervis Zimba, however, told News Diggers in an interview that it was too early for people to speculate that the maize that had been grown this farming season would not be enough to feed the country until the next season.

He explained that the union was undertaking an assessment of the extent of the drought and a comprehensive report would be issued by end of May to furnish the nation with the solutions to drought-affected farming communities.

“We will know exactly which Province will have a bit of a deficit or whatever. But this is by end of April because right now, we are doing some assessment. As you know, the crops are now drying in some areas. The trouble which we have currently is that in some areas where there is also a drought, there are pockets of farmers in there with very good maize. I can give you a place like Mumbwa. I recently visited someone’s farm two weeks ago where he’s grown over 300 hectares of very good maize but his neighbours, because they didn’t do one or two things, their maize is gone. So these are some of the issues that we want to do a proper assessment on by the end of April-May. We will know exactly what is the current level of the crops…But I can assure you that first of all, this is not the first time we’ve ever had a drought in this country and we’ve never imported food,” Zimba said.

“We’ve got mechanisms, farmers can grow what we call early maize….so we will have enough to eat and if need be, we will grow early maize for the country. But for now, it’s too early for anybody to speculate what the outcome of the current crop is, it’s totally too early. So we just need to wait, after the crop assessment then we will be informed of the exact position of the maize. The problem which we get disappointed always is politicising of maize. We know that maize is a staple food but we should stop politicising these things. If there is a shortage of wheat, nobody talks about it… we understand maize is a staple food and farmers are responsible enough.”

Zimba urged Zambians not to panic over the drought, saying it was not the first time that the country had experienced it.

“Let people be patient enough and let them wait until we see this proper assessment happen by end of May. Like I said, it’s a very tricky situation. Some areas, even in Choma, I know farmers who’ve got very good maize but others don’t have. So this is the situation at hand. So people need to be patient until we balance this whole situation. People should stop panicking, they should realise that this is not the first time we are having droughts. Even last year, the rains weren’t very good but did we import [food]? No! There was panic last year, ‘no we are going to have hunger’ but I assured the nation and the farmers in particular that let’s see what comes out. So people mustn’t panic. If my crop hasn’t done well, it doesn’t mean my neigbour’s crop will also not do well,” he said.

He further said the government, through ZNFU, would facilitate early planting of maize if the current one was not enough to feed the whole nation.

“We farmers are very patriotic to this country and if government will need early maize, we will produce early maize so that we don’t see any shortage coming through. Mind you, our neighbours haven’t done well equally. Because of the cyclone which hit Malawi, [Mozambique], and Zimbabwe. So they’ve not done well either. So the whole region hasn’t done very well. But as a country, we anticipate that all should be well and all we are asking is that people must be patient. The farmers are geared already, we’ve sensitized our farmers that in case we have a bit of a shortfall, we will grow early maize, provided there are certain mechanisms that we’ve got to put in place to assure that the maize will be bought,” said Zimba. “And again, we are taking further steps for this country never to go down to this situation. We want to activate the commercial farmers, we want to activate the emergent farmers, we want to activate the weakened farmers to start growing maize. There is something we are discussing with the Ministry of Agriculture behind the scenes and our proposal has been accepted. So after this, talks like ‘whether drought or no drought’ will be a thing of the past.”