The Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) says more farmers are expected to cultivate maize in the 2019/2020 farming season because the market price has been encouraging.

And the Union has urged farmers to plant early-maturing varieties to avoid being affected by the projected drought forecast for February 2020.

In an interview, ZNFU public relations manager Calvin Kaleyi Kaleyi said more farmers are likely to plant maize in the next farming season based on the current favourable market price.

He noted that the current grain price on the market had been very encouraging and will lead to a boost in the yield for the 2019/2020 farming season.

Maize prices on the local market drastically increased to a national average of between K110 and K130 per 50Kg bag this year, compared to K70 to K90 last year in the wake of a harsh drought.

Some private buyers have, in some instances, been purchasing the same quantity of the grain at around K170.

Zambia recorded around 2,004,389 metric tonnes of maize in the 2018-2019 agricultural season, down from 2.4 million tonnes produced last year, a second successive drop and 10-year low, triggered by severe drought conditions.

“Normally, what happens is that if the price is not right on the market, then the farmers will tend to shy away from planting certain commodities. So, for instance, if soya prices are not good on the market, then farmers in the next season will tend not to plant soya. What has happened is that over the years, farmers have also started speculative agriculture, which means they want to plant a crop that they know they will make money from. Speculation is not bad because you want to make profits out of your business. Agriculture is a business, so for farmers to start speculating, it means that they are learning the art of agriculture, they are learning the art of realizing that agriculture is a business, there is nothing wrong with that. Looking at the trends for this season going into 2019/2020, yes, I am looking at a situation where we are going to see a lot of farmers venturing into maize production. If you look at the prices lately that have been market-driven, the prices have been very good for maize,” Kaleyi explained.

“I will give you an example, if you look at Mumbwa, for instance, the price of maize has been going at, if I recall correctly, some of them have been selling at K170, K140, K160 per 50Kg bag and that’s a good price. If you look at Chongwe, the price has been ranging from K150 to K160, which is a very good price. So, with the prices that are prevailing, I anticipate that a lot of farmers will be producing a lot of maize in the 2019/2020 farming season. And so far, the prices that have played out on the market as regards the grain, the prices have been good. If you go to Eastern Province, Lundazi K180 to K200 per 50Kg bag; that is the price that has been prevailing on the market. And as farmers going into 2019/2020 season, farmers are encouraged to even plant more for as long as the price remains right.”

And Kaleyi urged farmers to plant early maturing varieties to cushion themselves from the expected drought around February next year.

“We are now entering the 2019/2020 farming season, this is a time that farmers should start preparing their fields; July, August, is the time to start making your fields ready. By the time we are reaching September, October, we are waiting for the rains. The time the rains are going to come, first week, second week, you plant early. Plant early-maturing variety because this is the prediction for this season that we are going to have early rains. So, plant early so that by the time we are hitting February, your crop is already standing. Grain development has already taken place and so on. If we do that as a country, we are going to have a good crop. This looks like a good crop because we are going to have early rains. All those farmers where the rains are going to start early, let them start preparing their fields; let them plant early; let them plant early-maturing variety, those that are going to plant late-maturing variety are going to be in trouble,” he advised.

“The other parts of the country, the north-eastern part, we expect that it’s going to rain and there is going to be, mostly, we will not have good rains in that area. That area we should know there is high possibility of army worms, let them start preparing now, buy pesticides so that come the time when they plant, if at all they are going to be hit by army worms, at the first sight of the army worms, they spray. This is the message that we want to take to the farmers that this season looks different, it looks more promising than the past two seasons and these are the steps that we need to take as farmers so that we have a good yield going into 2019/2020 farming season.”

Kaleyi added that ZNFU was working on promoting minimum tillage, which meant only ripping the land farmers intended to plant on.

“The way to go with conservation agriculture is that we want to promote minimum tillage, meaning you only rip exactly where you are going to plant. And also the issue of burning chaff on your fields should not be done. Don’t burn! Leave the chaff that was left from the last harvest, it will degenerate so that also becomes fertilizer, that also becomes manure to the soils. So do not burn, do not throw away the chaff; that is what is going to make the soil fertile,” advised Kaleyi.