HIVOS Southern Africa advocacy officer for sustainable diets William Chilufya has advised government to start implementing diversified farming practices to tackle the devastating effects of climate change affecting farmers.

Commenting on whether government’s ongoing relief food distribution programme being undertaken through the Disaster Mitigation and Management Unit (DMMU) would be enough to avert the hunger crisis in drought-hit areas, Chilufya noted that only crop diversification would be able to change farmers’ dire situation.

“It’s very important that government has stepped in to try and address the hunger challenges in some parts of this country that were affected by the droughts. In some parts of this country, there is some maize. So, in as much as the government is doing the distribution, in the long-run, there is an extent to which the government can also not afford to continue at a certain point. But then you have to let the market forces flow. So, to what extent will the government facilitate for the farmers, for example in the northern or eastern part of this country where there’s some harvest, to ensure that this type of food is transported to other places in this country? We really have to ensure that the market forces and the road network support the transportation of food from one place to another. It shouldn’t be extremely expensive for farmers in Northern Province to take their produce to the southern part of this country where there were some serious droughts. So, we really have to ensure that within the country, the trade system working well so that we are able to take food from this part of the country to another,” Chilufya observed.

“But then, when you come to think of the next season, climate change is here with us and so this drought is not the first and the last that we are going to experience. So, what lessons are we learning from this going forward? Number one is that, can we have the country begin to address this problem by ensuring that we have the right particular seeds in a particular area, which are able to do well in a particular content of climate or drought? Let cassava not just be viewed as a poor man’s food. Can we ensure also that Southern Province begins to grow cassava? Can we have certain varieties of cassava that would really grow well in the southern part of this country so that the people do not only count on maize, but have other crops that they can look at? I think in the long-run this is what we have to do and we have to start planning now.”

Chilufya said if maize farming remained the sole focus, Zambia’s agricultural sector would not be diversified.

“Let’s ensure that the agro-dealers, who are major players in the E-voucher system, also stock different types of seed. May we also ensure that they have different types of seed that the farmers can buy? Apart from that, to what extent are these agro-dealers equipped with information that is necessary to advise the farmers who are purchasing in particular areas to ensure that the farmer is able to make some serious decisions that help them to avoid losses like we have encountered this year. Can we also improve on our information dissemination regarding the weather so that we should have a very good idea of when the rains would come; how long the rains would last? That’s very important. So, our Meteorological Department needs some huge boost to ensure that they respond to demands of climate change and drought,” said Chilufya.

“The opinion that we’ve always had, as HIVOS is that, food is not about maize alone. Food is about different types of crops. So, in as much as the government is distributing this maize, let’s also think of how we will incorporate some sort of proteins like beans, which government would definitely manage… we should not only see this relief in form of maize because food is beyond maize. I believe what’s being given to these people is just maize. Remember, the Zambia Demographic Health Survey whose preliminary results were released a few weeks ago, it shows that malnutrition has reduced by 35 per cent. For the last four years we’ve been about 40 per cent. But we are now at 35 per cent. So, the gains that have been made as a result of implementing with partners might just be lost because more and more people will fall into malnutrition.”