Can investing in irrigation unlock Zambia’s agricultural potential?


The potential of Zambia’s agricultural sector cannot be over-emphasized as the southern African nation has abundant arable land and fresh water resources which have not be fully exploited.

According to government figures, only 15 percent of Zambia’s arable land is under cultivation and despite the country accounting for about 35 percent of the fresh water in the southern African region, irrigation only accounts for 6 percent of the agriculture sector.

However, with the changes in weather patterns caused by climate change, experts are urging the authorities to invest in irrigation instead of depending on rain-fed agriculture.

For instance, the 2017/2018 has already suffered following prolonged dry spells in some parts of the country, with crop production expected to plummet.

According to country’s meteorological body, the Zambia Meteorological Department, five of the country’ 10 province are experiencing stress in maize crops due to lack of sufficient soil moisture induced by tropical cyclone Ava.

According to a report, the meteorological body says Lusaka, Western, Southern, southern parts of Central and Eastern Provinces have recorded below-normal rainfall from January 1 due to the tropical cyclone.

The insufficient amounts of soil moisture may cause stress and wilting in maize crops, it added.

The Zambia National farmers Union (ZNFU) is an association representing farmers and is already worried with the current dry spells as well as late delivery of farming inputs and an outbreak of fall army worms.

The association has already predicted a 50-percent drop in maize production in the 2017/2018 farming season due to the dry spell.

Calvin Kaleyi, the association’s spokesperson said this was so because the affected provinces were the major producers of maize.

“The crop is wilting and this is very bad because it has hit the maize belts,” he said.

Zambia has witnessed bumper harvests of maize, its staple crop, in recent seasons, with the country producing 3.6 million tons of the cereal crop in the 2016/2017 season from 2.8 million tons produced in the previous season.

But analysts believe that it was time the country seriously consider massive investments in irrigation farming in order to have all-round production following the unpredictable weather pattern.

Chance Kabaghe, executive director of the Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute (APRI), a local agricultural think-tank, said it is high time stakeholders took practical steps in investing heavily in irrigation farming, saying depending on rain-fed agriculture was the thing of the past.

Minister of Agriculture Dora Siliya has pledged government’s commitment to invest in irrigation as a way to boost agricultural production.

The government, she said, intends to increase investment in harvesting rain-water and construction of more dams to reduce dependence on rain-fed agriculture after poor rains experienced in some parts of the country.

According to her, dams will have to be constructed throughout the country in order to reduce dependence on rain-fed agriculture.

“There are about 600,000 smallholder farmers who produce most of the country’s cassava, cotton, millet, and sorghum, as well as over 90 percent of its maize,” she said when she addressed a group of investors in Germany during the 10th Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) in Germany.

“Because these farmers generally do not have modern irrigation systems, production is largely rain-fed, making crops highly vulnerable to fluctuation in rainfall,” said Siliya. Enditem

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