AGRICULTURE and Cooperatives Minister, Ben Kapita, has directed extension officers and the District Cooperative Unions (DCUs) countrywide to embark on a sensitisation exercise to enable small-scale farmers to improve on crop yields.
Mr Kapita said the move would ensure that farmers remained competitive locally as well as on the export market.
The minister said this in Mkushi last Friday at the 2007 crop marketing season flagging off ceremony held at Mkushi main depot.
He said emergent farmers should at least produce between three to four million tonnes of the crop throughout Zambia. Mr Kapita said there was need for small-scale farmers to diversify into other crops because of the climate changes being experienced globally.
He said there could not be talks of sustainable agriculture without talking about diversifying activities because of the global climatic changes.
The Agriculture minister said it was important that farmers grew crops that were more drought resistant like cassava, millet, sorghum and sweet potatoes, among others.
Mr Kapita urged farmers to engage in other income generating activities such as livestock production, fish farming, fruit and vegetable production.
He cautioned farmers not to sell all their maize because the Government would not give relief food unless under special circumstances. The minister urged millers and other users to buy and store adequate stocks for their operations as the maize bought by FRA was meant for export and relief purposes.
As a way of improving access to farming inputs for emergent farmers, the FRA in collaboration with OMNIA Fertiliser and Nyimbo Investments were facilitating a fertiliser maize barter programme.
Mr Kapita said the Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) was designed to timely supply fertiliser to the small-scale farmers while providing them market access.
The minister, however, warned the two companies not to use the barter programme to exploit the small-scale farmers but to use it for mutual benefits.
Mr Kapita said it was important to realise that the good harvest Zambia was anticipating was a challenge to every citizen to ensure that crops did not go to waste.
He urged the FRA and the farmers to ensure that adequate arrangements for storage purposes of maize were made.
The FRA chairperson, Costain Chilala, said at the same function that K40 billion had been deposited into the agencyâ€™s account while a K50 million was already in the Zambia National Commercial Bank (ZNCB) account for buying of crops from the farmers.
Mr Chilala said FRA would spend about K205 billion to buy various crops from farmers during this yearâ€™s crop marketing season.
He said the money would be used to buy 400,000 and 2,400 tonnes of maize and cassava respectively. Other crops that would be bought are 1,200 tonnes of rice, soyabeans and groundnuts. Mr Chilala said for the agency to successfully handle such volumes of crops, there was need for all players like the cooperatives, financial institutions, transport and fumigation companies to play their roles effectively.
Mr Chilala said there was need for the reduction in fertiliser prices which hindered expansion of the small-scale farmers. He said the crop marketing programme had the potential to generate foreign exchange through exports.
He said the agency exported 126,000 tonnes of maize last season and that efforts had been stepped up to increase the figures this season.
The crop-marketing season that kicked off last Friday, is expected to end on September 30, 2007.