The Center for Trade Policy and Development (CTPD) says the reason why the country’s agricultural sector has not recorded meaningful development over the years is limited budgetary allocations and investment by government.

And CTPD says it is poor planning by the government to start exporting maize to neighbouring countries when Zambian citizens are still grappling with hunger.

CTPD researcher Brian Mwiinga told journalists during a press briefing, Tuesday, that aside from natural calamities that had befallen the agricultural sector, there had been a growing problem of underinvestment.

“The agricultural sector has continued to face a number of challenges in the past farming season due to natural causes such as droughts, unpredictable rainfall patterns and pests. This has continued to subdue the sector’s productivity and its potential to drive economic growth and contribute to rural and urban poverty reduction. The 2019 crop forecasting survey for the 2019/2020 marketing season recorded a reduction in the production of most agriculture commodities including maize which was projected to decrease by 16 per cent from about 2.39 million metric tonnes produced last season 2018/2019 to about two million tonnes for the 2019/2020 marketing season. But aside from natural calamities that have befallen the sector, there has been a growing problem of underinvestment of finances in the agricultural sector by government,” Mwiinga said.

“With regard to agriculture finance and investment support to the sector, we have observed a decline in budgetary allocations to the sector over the years. In the 2020 national budget, the total allocations to the agricultural sector has been dropped way below what is expected of a budget that intends to deliver growth and reduce poverty. In fact, the total allocations for the 2010 national budget are below half of what was allocated to the sector in 2019. Much as we agree that we need to achieve more with less, the money allocated to the sector is way too little to achieve any meaningful growth in the sector. The 2020 budget has reduced the amount allocated to FISP by K300 million, it is not yet clear how many small scale farmers are intended to be reached with this budgetary allocation. The target for 2019 was one million of the estimated 1.6 million small scale farmers. It must be borne in mind that the budget for FISP has reduced by K700 million over the past two years.” The livestock and fisheries sub-sectors which are equally important sectors of the Zambian economy have received very little money in the 2020 national budget.”

And Mwinga condemned government’s decision to start exporting maize to neighbouring countries when Zambia was also in a crisis.

“When we didn’t get the bumper harvest after the 2018/2019 farming season, what we were told by the minister was that ‘we have enough stock to last us up to next year’, now it worries us that we want to be exporting maize to Congo DR, in an event that we don’t have rains, it means we are going to find ourselves in a crisis. We will be exporting maize to Congo now and then next year if things don’t go well, we will start importing maize into the country. But I think that’s poor planning by the government. Right now we are grappling with issues of high mealie meal prices, largely because the supply of maize to the millers is not as it should. So if we export, it meas we are reducing from the reserves that we have and if the reserves dwindle then we expect short supply of maize on the market which is just going to trigger an increase in mealie meal prices. So in our view, that’s a wrong move by government, Mwiinga said.

Mwiinga gave some of CTPD’s recommendations to help resolve this problem.

“Government should ensure that farming inputs are distributed in good time to allow farmers to plant crops at the right time and this should be supported by a well organised agricultural extension system to provide timely information to help them understand the expected changes in the weather pattern. Government should also avoid regulating the price of maize and instead leave it to market forces of demand and supply. This would encourage private sector participation in commodity marketing and input supply. In the 2020 national budget, there is little amount of money allocated to support irrigation farming, FISP programme and livestock and fisheries. To this effect, we would like to appeal for more resources to be allocated to the sector if it is to take its rightful place,” said Mwiinga.