National Union for Small-scale Farmers of Zambia executive director Dr Frank Kayula says Zambia will remain vulnerable to hunger crises as long as it remains dependent on maize as its staple food.

Speaking during the plenary discussion after the launch of a report by Hivos dubbed “Beyond Maize”, Dr Kayula said given the unpredictable whether pattern, diversification had now become a matter of urgency.

“I want to say this, as long as we make maize our may stay for our tummies, we remain vulnerable to hunger in this country. Because it is obvious, let us imagine that in the coming season, there is no rain also in Northern Province, what is going to happen to this country? And it is unfortunate, let me say it here because I have seen the media here, it is unfortunate that we are even moving away from the E-voucher which my brother mentioned directly that it has brought about diversification and we are moving away to the direct input support program which stifles diversification,” Dr Kayula said.

“Where are we going as a nation? Okay I understand that we don’t have funds to do this on a high scale, right now government is depending on these national suppliers to supply on loan basis or credits and then they will pay them later and even then I think there are other colleagues who are in this country to help when we have challenges. Why don’t we go to them so that they support the E-voucher system so that the farmer remain diversified? Remaining only on maize and grain, we are in trouble, we can move away and the solutions are within our reach and we can do it.”

He said farmers were reluctant to grow other crops because only maize had an easy market in Zambia.

“Farmers will actually grow anything that will have a market for them to make money. In fact, when I was hearing my sister talking about sorghum, I was saying here is a market and that we will start promoting that so that they can buy. You will notice that for the small scale farmers in particular, they have really leaned on maize because maize appears to have a easy market wherever there are people who follow them to go and get that maize right on the farms at farm [and] get prices of course which are very low. For us, anything that will have a market, we will grow,” Dr Kayula said.

“On an average in Zambia, our farmers are having about 2 hectares of land when it comes to diversification on that piece of land it is not very easy because already, as I am speaking, most of you are aware that small scale farmers are diversified, they are putting most of their land, much [of it goes] to maize. If you go to a small scale farm, you find that they are growing a little of almost everything that is required in their house, they have the sweet potatoes for kalembula and the sweet potato itself, they have a bit of chiwawa (pumpkin leaves) they have a bit of almost everything, some beans, there are some groundnuts there is the larger portion that goes to maize mostly because maize has a market.”

And Dr Kayula said government should put up stringent measures to curb the food and mouth disease in Southern Province in a bid to cushion the hunger crisis that has hit the area.

“The scenario in Southern Province made me to think that we even need to go beyond those crops not just maize because meat is food as well, isn’t it? And chicken is food and there are so many other livestocks which we can do. There is a case right now in Zambia after the drought in Southern Province, the brothers and sisters in Southern Province are keepers of livestock and it could have been natural for them to move from the maize which they don’t have to go and start selling the livestock for them to survive but unfortunately, the market is blocked for them because of the disease, food and month disease. And so what we would appeal is why doesn’t the government do something about this food and mouth so that you unlock the potential of these people even in livestock away from the maize, after all, they don’t have it so that they can be able to sell the livestock and be able to get the money and live on,” said Dr Kayula.