Jan 7, 2009
Rethinking the food situation in Zambia
By Mingeli Palata
Lusaka Times - lusaka,Zambia, Jan. 6, 2009
I will give you an example of Cassava, a crop I am most familiar with because my grand mother in Kapompo grows the crop. Cassava is cheap and convenient to grow; it is rich in carbohydrates and will not let you down should your basal metabolic rate be higher than the average Zambian. Yet it is very drought resistant, doesn’t need fertilizer and can grow in various soils with minimum supervision. The advantages that Cassava has over maize are immense and I see no reason why it should not be promoted as a staple food of choice.
It’s only natural that the issue of food is on top of the mind for most people and certainly for me. I fail to perform to expected levels when my stomach is not tightly gripped. I choose to believe that most of you share this view. You many not really understand the food crisis in this country until like me you meet the likes of Justin Mwemba, a taxi driver in Lusaka whom I met the previous week. Aside from struggling to make his cashing markup, I got to learn that Justin is also a father to two and a husband of one wife who lives with his family in Bauleni compound. The man vividly put the deteriorating hunger situation in the country, describing the cost of living and the price of mealie meal in particular as unattainable for most average Zambians.
True to the word, in the past year, the issue of mealie meal prices has been one of great interest to most Zambians and it was only a few weeks ago when we were told that Zambia will experience a poor harvest this year, alarming isn’t it? Yet this is the order of the day- year after year. The price of mealie meal is negatively affected by mismanagement of food administration and low agriculture output, as much as it is affected by weather patterns.
I need not overstate the fact that Zambia has a special God-given capacity to feed itself and its neighbors.Despite countless efforts made to urge government to put agriculture in the center stage of their undertakings for both internal food security and foreign exchange purposes, there has been little done in this area. Today agricultural news is still rocked by unattainable fertilizer prices and maize grain price scandals. It is obvious that the system being used to make these much needed agricultural inputs available is not working. This is not only embarrassing but detrimental to aspirations of ensuring sustainable food security and making Zambia the ultimate food basket in Africa.
Firstly there is a lot of mismanagement, low innovation and lack of priority that characterizes operations at the FRA. In frantic efforts to know what the problem is, I was shocked to learn that both commercial and subsistence farmers find it more profitable to sell the maize to opaque beer brewers or foreign nations rather than the government simply because alcohol brewers for instance offer to buy the grain at double the price. Why can’t government rectify this anomaly? I suggest that deliberate regulation be effected to woo farmers to vend the grain to the FRA by offering attractive prices and terms.Smart economic measures such as high taxation and regulation should be effected to discourage farmers from selling their maize to ‘opaque beer brewers’.
Secondly, Government needs to take a more deliberate action other than relying on selfish private commercial farmers, who would rather sell their maize grain to the Congo than the FRA. I suggest that the state identify key farmers so as to equip and position them in strategic locations for the sole purpose of achieving food security in our beloved country. These strategic state aided farms should be equipped with state of the art farming equipments, inputs, an all season irrigation system that enables winter farming (tapped from the numerous mighty rivers we are endowed with) and objective government supervision to ensure that food shortages and crazy mealie meal prices are a the thing of the past.
Lastly, Zambia also suffers from a self inflicted addiction to maize- somehow we believe that the only thing worth being called food is maize meal- nshima. This should notbe the case.There are other foodstuffs like rice, cassava, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, that can supplement maize as the staple food. Government needs to take deliberate action to fight this stereotype and promote other foodstuff to combat hunger in this country. I will give you an example of Cassava, a crop I am most familiar with because my grand mother in Kapompo grows the crop. Cassava is cheap and convenient to grow; it is rich in carbohydrates and will not let you down should your basal metabolic rate be higher than the average Zambian. Yet it is very drought resistant, doesn’t need fertilizer and can grow in various soils with minimum supervision. The advantages that Cassava has over maize are immense and I see no reason why it should not be promoted as a staple food of choice.
We need to see more inspiring deliberate action and more government innovative regulation to ensure that the country has maximum food security so that Justin Mweemba and his family are well fed. This in my view is the government’s primary responsibility and there is no room for excuses.