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Crop diversity key to agri-sector growth

NEEDED—Mechanised production

Gracian Lungu

Agriculture experts have reiterated the need for diversifying production in the sector to enhance its contribution to the national economy.

A snap study by The Business Times has revealed that both crop production and export earnings from agricultural value chains have been fluctuating, a development affecting the sector’s contribution to the economy.

For example, information sourced from economic reports published by the Ministry of Finance show that export value for tobacco declined to $456.8 million in 2019 from $474.3 million in 2016, export value for sugar declined to $75.4 million from $109.4 million while export values for tea rose to $84.3 million from $64.7 million in 2016.

However, the 2019 Annual Economic Report indicates that maize production was expected to increase from 2,791,741 metric tonnes (mt) in the 2017-18 growing season to 3,355,232mt in the 2018-19 growing season, representing a 20 percent increase.

Another annual economic report for 2016 shows that maize production was expected to go down from 2,776,277mt in the 2014-15 growing season to 2,431,313mt in the 2015-16 growing season, representing a 12.4 percent decrease.

Such trends were also noted on other agriculture value chains during the period.

Commenting on the trends, agriculture expert Tamani Nkhono Mvula said there was a need to ensure diversified production.

He said, over the past 20 years, the country has been making investments that focus on subsistence rain-fed agriculture.

“We need to invest in other sectors such as the industry sector which could help the country move away from subsistence agriculture. We need to invest in strategic sectors that support agriculture such as education, energy and industrial sectors which naturally develop that agriculture sector,” Nkhono Mvula said.

Chief Executive Officer of the Africa Institute for Corporate Citizenship Driana Lwanda said if leguminous crops such as soya and groundnuts were traded on structured markets, the sector’s contribution to economic growth would be significant.

“Besides tobacco, where we are able to follow trading of the commodity, we have other value chains such as soya, ground nuts and pigeon pees whose prices were on the increase in recent years but we are not able to follow the figures because we do not have strategic and structured markets,” Lwanda said.

Spokesperson in the Ministry of agriculture Grecian Lungu said the problem has been unfavourable weather patterns in years that the country could register a decline in production and export earnings.

“We are working with the Ministry of Trade to establish structured markets for leguminous crops which we believe will also enhance prices of such commodities. We are also developing irrigation schemes to enhance irrigation agriculture in the country; so, we are slowly moving away from relying on rainfall,” Lungu said.

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