It is not a secret that the future of the Zambian economy lies in Agriculture and particularly livestock production. Unfortunately, successive governments have all missed the golden opportunity that lies in agriculture. Well-coordinated studies have outlined that no other sector is more critical to the lives and livelihoods of the poor and marginalised communities than livestock. Thus, Zambia must have a clear and sustainable agricultural development agenda. Parties that wish to form Government next year must critically reflect on this and clearly present their crop and livestock development agendas. However, it should be made known that rapid livestock growth does not always translate into fast poverty reduction. There are other facets to the equation that need balancing. We need a clear understanding of the relationship between economic growth and poverty reduction, as well as a critical understanding of factors that can make livestock growth directly reduce poverty. You may ask, “As a livestock economist, what do you want to see in the 2022 budget and State of National Address (SONA) on the livestock development agenda for Zambia?” Well, here is what I want to see and hear from the party that will form Government in 2021.
Mr Speaker, to turn around the economy we have allocated K5 billion to the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock to transform the livestock and fisheries subsector of agriculture. This amount is in response to different production strategies and structural adjustments that we have made. Besides the misdirected budgets of the previous administrations, we shall have to invest in structural reforms and strategic incentives to stimulate the livestock subsector into a major economic engine for the Country.
Mr Speaker, in the section of livestock production, we have developed the livestock policy – which we have not had as a country until recently – to give us direction of where we are going as a country, with regards to livestock production and disease control. To actualise the livestock policy, we have developed production strategies for all types of livestock in this Country. For instance, we have developed the chicken or poultry production strategy, beef, goat, sheep, pig, dairy, rabbit and fish production strategies. These, Mr Speaker, clearly spell out how we will develop livestock production systems. The strategies are responsive to the local needs as they were developed using a bottom-up approach with stakeholders in respective industries. The relevance of a bottom-up approach, Mr Speaker, cannot be overemphasised. Mr Speaker, there is a need to hear out the grassroots and incorporate their needs into our intervention plans. Mr Speaker, as diverse as our citizenry is so is its needs. Sir, an intervention that suits Msanzala constituency in Eastern Province may not work for Sikongo constituency in Western Province. These interventions should be on a context-driven basis, and therefore, there cannot exist, a one-size-fits-all model for livestock production in this Country.
Mr Speaker, in the section of animal health, we have developed an animal health policy and an animal health implementation plan. The plan has spelt out disease control strategies for all critical animal diseases in Zambia. A decentralised sustainable and holistic, bottom-up approach will be used to control diseases. This is to create communities of practice and build disease control systems of purpose. In this policy, we have developed the capacity and decentralised disease control to provinces. Currently, when you have a disease outbreak in a province, you need to communicate with the headquarters in Lusaka, which sends the team to the province to collect samples and go back with them to Lusaka for laboratory testing thus wasting a lot of resources. Then the results are sent back to the district to mobilise as the headquarters is sourcing for funds. In short Mr Speaker, disease control is done from headquarters and not the field. This has led to a lack of proactivity in disease control. We are not controlling animal disease but following it.
Furthermore, I have instructed my technocrats at Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, Department of Veterinary Services, to re-classify livestock diseases according to domestic importance, before looking to regional, continental and global importance and markets. Mr Speaker, presently, we have classified Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) as a Disease of National Economic Importance (DNEI), implying it is government responsibility to prevent and control it if an outbreak occurs. On the other hand, we have classified East Coast Fever (ECF) as a Management Disease, implying that the farmer should bear all costs related to prevention and control of this disease. This is somewhat ironical, as we have given FMD much attention at the expense of ECF, which has a very high mortality rate and a significant disease that has perhaps contributed more in the dwindling our national herd of cattle than any other cattle disease in the nation. We should grow our national herd first before we start thinking of Transboundary Animal Disease (TADs) because it is only after we have excess supply to satisfy local consumption that we can start looking to the outside market.
Mr Speaker, to prevent animal disease, we have entered into a Private Public Partnership agreement with VETPRENEURS LIMITED who will produce ten million vaccines each for all key livestock diseases in the Country. We have already established the market for these vaccines locally and sell the excess to the region. All reputable agro-vet suppliers with stable cold chains will trade in our local vaccine on a quota basis. This means that we will regulate the import of these vaccines in the Country. This development will also prevent irregularities in the procurement of vaccines and save the Country from externalising the much-needed FOREX.
Mr Speaker, to answer to local needs, my Government has restructured the entire Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock. Every veterinary camp will now be run by an animal scientist and veterinary doctor, with the assistance of the veterinary assistant. This is as opposed to the previous establishment structure where the veterinary assistant was the main veterinarian providing primary and secondary animal health care with the veterinary doctor based at the district office and preoccupied with administrative work and remotely supervising veterinary assistants. This is to respond to the required doctor to animal ratio. Similarly, we have increased the number of directorates at ministerial level with an inclusion of the directorate of Veterinary Public Health. This is to strengthen food safety as we move to take meat inspection to the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries.
Mr Speaker, every animal scientist and veterinarian will have an accurate record of all the livestock farmers in his or her veterinary camps, the number of livestock owned by each farmer, the animal management and health practices conducted, the livestock annual growth statistics. The officers will be availed with transport, infrastructure and all necessary equipment to discharge their duties. Henceforth, funding will be performance-based. The Department of Policy and Planning will be strengthened and ensure all officers submit their work plans in line with livestock production strategic plans and the current National Agricultural Implementation Plan and be evaluated at the end of each year. Non-performing officers will be shown the door, in line with the laws that will govern performance-based contracts that all civil servants will sign with Government henceforth. We currently doubt the results of the livestock census, which was conducted in 2018 because our officers do not have accurate records. How can you transform the livestock sector if you do not know what you currently have? Mr Speaker, they say, even if you do not know where you are going, at least know where you are coming from.
Mr Speaker, to show our commitment to livestock development, I have appointed a Minister and Permanent Secretary with the requisite knowledge and relevant experience in livestock/fisheries production and animal health management. To ensure that animal scientists, veterinarians and veterinary para-professionals work in accordance with the required standards, we have appointed a strong team to lead the Veterinary Council of Zambia, Agricultural Institute of Zambia and other relevant fisheries and livestock production and health regulatory bodies. This is to protect the public from quarks masquerading as professionals. These regulatory bodies have a big task to ensure the development of the livestock sector. Social media is full of non-professionals conducting training and misguiding farmers and prospective farmers. These professional bodies are now in control and will regulate agricultural training at all levels.
Mr Speaker, we are running a decelerating economy due to several factors among them effects of climate change, COVID-19 pandemic and heavy debt burden. We need to start delivering results. Accordingly, we have developed the animal breeding policy to improve breeds of livestock. This policy will control animal breeding centres, which previously ended up breeding ticks and animal diseases due to disuse. All animal breeding centres will be run on private, public partnership (PPP) models. The school of veterinary medicine and agricultural sciences and other research institutions will play key roles in societal responsive-research at these breeding centres. This will not be business as usual where these so-called livestock breeding centres or preferably multiplication centres cannot even produce a chicken regardless of the amount you allocate to it. All animal breeders in this Country will henceforth be regulated. Inbreeding Mr speaker has caused severe economic loses in the livestock subsector. We are all sharing breeding animals from the same breeding line due to unregulated breeders. Even dog breeders Mr speaker will sell a local crossbred dog (Mongrel) to the unsuspecting citizenry as a pure Boer Boel dog.
Mr Speaker, my Government will commercialise all livestock value chains with Government playing more of value chain governance role. Value chain development will be in the hands of the private sector with the Government, also facilitating and incentivising transaction along the value chains. Mr Speaker, you may wish to know that a lot of the working class are also yearning to be weekend farmers. How to bring these on board is the immediate priority of our Government to tap into this entrepreneurial mindset. All interventions in the livestock and fisheries subsector will have to pass through the technocrats in the ministry and discussed among stakeholders. What is the use of investing vast sums of money in the industry only to obtain nothing at the end of the project and leave farmers in more and worse poverty than before a project? All interventions will take a value chain approach, and if you want to empower farmers with cattle, for instance, we will make sure that all supportive infrastructure in the value chain has been taken into consideration. Livestock has been in the past distributed like mangoes with nothing to show for. Government and private sector-driven projects have ended up distributing old, sick animals, which have even gone off production in the name of the community or indeed presidential empowerment.
To increase consumption, the Government will play a key role in developing livestock marketing policies that will incentivise local consumption. All supermarkets will deal 50% of local nyama with the percentage increasing gradually in response to production and productivity. Information systems will be strengthened so that actors in the value chain are aware of what is obtaining in the industry. Mr Speaker, there is too much informal livestock trade between Zambia and Angola, and Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have formalised these livestock markets not only to earn revenue but also control diseases such as Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia (CBPP) and Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). Through bilateral engagements with these countries, we have structured these livestock markets in line with COMESA and SADC trade protocols. All animals will now pass through one checkpoint manned by Zambia Revenue Authority, veterinary doctors, and other relevant officers who will provide ante mortem inspection and conformity assessments inline with international trade standards.
Mr Speaker, lastly, but not the least, fisheries sector. Sir. In line with my developmental agenda, going forward, my Government will prioritise aquaculture (fish farming). Our experience has been that with capture fisheries (fisheries in natural water bodies), there is no ownership. This diminishes responsibility for our treasured natural resource, leading to overfishing, use of wrong fishing gear (use of mosquito nets) and fishing methods (involving poisonous chemicals) among other destructive vices. While we will continue maintaining the capture fisheries section, its larger role will be the establishment of fish cages rather than stocking and restocking, efforts which have proved to be of little help so far. To speak to these formidable changes, I have brought in technocrats, to see ways of establishing disciplines to do with fish production and fish health at our higher institutions of learning. Until recently, I am told as a country; we did not have a single discipline-specific to fisheries production and fish health at degree level until Copperbelt University came on the scene. The institutions churning out fisheries technicians should also be strengthened.
We have the ongoing aquaculture development programmes which I am afraid are not yielding intended results because we did not take the value chain approach when disbursing funds. For instance, we cannot develop a cold chain system without production and Vis versa. Deliberate policies have since been put in place to balance production and consumption along the value chain.
Mr Speaker, the aquaculture industry is now faced with challenges of the skyrocketing prices of fish feed, which is making our local tilapia more expensive than the Chinese imported fish. Smuggling of Chinese tilapia disguised as horse mackerel from SADC countries along the Pacific Ocean (Namibia) is also destabilising the local fish market and the Kasumbalesa market. My ministry is engaging stakeholders to put this practice to rest.
Mr Speaker, to meet the supply gap of fish per year, Zambia needs to improve the quality and quantity supply of fingerlings. My Government is promoting research on fish genetics to improve the gene pool and productivity of the aquaculture sector. Currently, the local fingerling hatcheries are producing and marketing fry and fingerlings for sale to grow-out facilities although market demand is higher than the supply, thereby creating a deficit. Mr Speaker, the deficit in the supply of fingerlings to grow-out facilities indicates that there is a need for more investment in expanding the capacities for hatchery production. To improve the capacity of hatcheries, recruitment of broodstock is an essential activity. Currently, my ministry through the department of fisheries encourages the intensive rearing of Nile tilapia, green head tilapia and three-spotted tilapia, among other fish species. The broodstock of these fish species is either recruited from the local water bodies or imported from countries that have improved breeds such as genetically improved farmed tilapia (GIFT).
Mr Speaker, my Government will evaluate the pathogen risk associated with the importation of broodstock. Movements of live fish for aquaculture development involve the shipment of gametes or fertilised eggs; fry, fingerlings or spat; and of broodstock. Such movements Mr Speaker can pose an extremely high risk of pathogen transfer, and many transboundary severe pathogens can be introduced to new geographic areas due to the careless movement of fish for aquaculture development. Mr Speaker, to avoid putting the Country’s aquaculture industry at risk, my Government has developed the necessary expertise, capacity, policy, legislation and financial resources to manage transboundary disease risks adequately.
Mr Speaker as I conclude, I need to inform the nation that structural reforms take 4-5 years to deliver results. We cannot possibly wait that long to revitalise the economy. But this is an economy that has taken centuries to destroy, so we employ our people to give us this realistic time span for a genuine and sustainable economic turnaround.
Mr Speaker, I now declare the Xth session of the Xth national assembly officially opened. God bless you all; God bless our great nation, Zambia. I thank you.
(The author is a Senior Lecturer of Livestock/Animal Health Economics at the University of Zambia, School of Veterinary Medicine. Email: [email protected], Mobile: +260977717258)