HIVOS Southern Africa advocacy officer for sustainable diets William Chilufya says there is need for government to invest in research and seed production in order for crop diversification to become a reality in the country.

In an interview, Chilufya observed that it was impossible to venture into crop diversification without the necessary seed, hence the need for research and development in seed production.

“We need to walk the talk in terms of what we know about crop diversification, but the most important thing is that we need funding for crop diversification. I talked about extension workers, who are very key. We have to fund research and seed production so that we have seed because without the seeds, we cannot venture into crop diversification. And marketing becomes very key as farmers become attracted to crops that have a market,” Chilufya said.

“I would like to emphasise that farmers are ready if they know that the market is there, they wouldn’t want to grow something and waste. They might grow something at a very small-scale level to consume at home, but, generally, the market proves very significant. And also, the availability of the seeds. So, if you go round town, today, to look for millet or sorghum, believe you me, you would struggle to find any agro-dealer that is actually selling some of these products. Yes, I have seen a few, but they are so few and you would go round and round Lusaka to actually find these diverse seeds so, the seeds also play a very important role. The technical knowhow in terms of how you plant it and this is where as Hivos, we are emphasising that our extension services need to be well-funded, our extension workers need new knowledge, which they should be able to pass on to the farmers that they encounter. They need a means of transport to actually reach out to the farmer. Today, you have a situation where an extension worker travels to actually go to a farmer because one extension worker is covering a lot of people and they are in far places.”

He added that farmers could grow anything provided that the crop had a viable market with available seed.

“Farmers would grow anything if they know that it’s profitable and it will give them money and that has been proved. And you will see, even in the report that we did and also many other stakeholders’ reports, they show clearly that when there is available market, when there are seeds available, when there is a technical knowhow in terms of growing this type of crop, which has market, the farmers will do anything to actually do that. So, farmers hunt for market, the number one thing is market. But also for other crops, it’s about what kind of information is there about these crops. For example, other people do not like the taste of millet meal and the habit now we have developed in the country is eating for taste and not for health and as Hivos we have been championing ‘eating for health.’ So, sometimes you find that some healthy foods are actually not so appealing to the eye and because of that, then you find that a lot of people, especially young ones will not like them and there is a lot of competition with these unhealthy foods, which are being advertised all the time and the local foods that have been important and healthy are getting less and less of adverts, if any,” he added.

Chilufya further called on politicians to translate their rhetoric into action to effect change.

“So far, we have a Draft Crop Diversification Strategy, which is yet to be approved. The fact that we took time with the Ministry of Agriculture and stakeholders to work on this strategy shows that there is appetite from the government to really get practical around crop diversification. These are documents that Zambia has been very good at. Statements have been coming from the Head of State, the Minister of Agriculture, many others about crop diversification, but unless we see that these are translated into actual diversification where we see the real things happening on the ground…So, we need a link between what we hear, especially from politicians and what is important is what we actually see on the ground,” said Chilufya.