Q: Mr. Jervis Zimba, we are glad you could grant us an interview off your busy schedule. It’s that time of the Agritech Expo again, celebrating five years now. How are farmers expected to celebrate this?
Time really flies fast. It is amazing that we have come this far and the Agritech Expo has become the biggest agricultural and technological show in this country and the region. This makes us as ZNFU proud that we are contributing to uplifting the agriculture sector with a vision to take the sector to levels where countries that have embraced new agricultural technologies and have mechanised, are.
That said; the agriculture sector has been besieged by a myriad of challenges. As a farmer, it is evident that the current and past seasons have been exceptionally challenging. Most parts of the country experienced unprecedented drought and other manmade challenges. Farmers were paid late, government slapped an export ban on maize … it has been a difficult period.
But to continue grieving and complaining over what has happened will not help us. We have work to do. We have to grow agriculture. This year’s Agritech Expo would avail the latest technologies and agro innovations and machinery that would help the farmer pick up the pieces and start on a fresh agro-trajectory. We have to put the challenges behind us and have a fresh start.
Q: Mr. President; could you tell us what you think would be the major highlights of this year’s Expo?
Plenty! New agricultural technologies and innovations are being unveiled. The aquaculture section, will be much more exciting than previously, the livestock section is a must visit and offers possibilities of improving farmer stocks with big sales of some of the best breeds of cattle, sheep and goats, live crop demonstrations, irrigation systems, and farmers should look out for and attend some of the exciting workshops that will be offered for free under the AgriTeach banner, and many more. This is where the questions of agricultural diversification will be answered.
Q: Is this a platform where policy makers can pick up something from?
Yes, of course! The country has belaboured talking about the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP), which has evolved into FISP e-voucher, but it remains evident that there has been little progress in resolving farmer issues due to inconsistent policies.
When we say fresh start, we are also talking to policy makers. They should also avoid making similar mistakes over and over if the true intention is to grow the country’s agriculture.
The agricultural sector continues to be the backbone of Zambia’s economy as it contributes to the growth of the economy and also to exports. The sector remains the main source of livelihood and employment of majority of the people in rural areas and needs the support of policy makers, especially government.
Policy makers should also have a fresh mindset. We are tired of experiencing similar challenges year in year out. The Agritech Expo, apart from being a business to business and linkages platform, is also an agri-solutions platform. I am calling on policy makers, line Government Ministries to attend the Expo. Solutions lie therein.
We should put a stop to haphazard policy pronouncements. Let us be consultative and not allow the sector to degenerate like in the 90s and lose all the gains we have made in past few years. We would like to have an input in policy direction. Look at the Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP), it is a very good document, but we are failing to stick to it as a country.
There should be actualisation of policies and programmes, such as unlocking of the irrigation fund, the aquaculture fund and the mechanisation fund, among other projects.
Why is it that we have failed to actualise most things that we have said we will do as a country?
Where is the mechanisation fund, where is the aquaculture fund, where is the irrigation fund? The Agritech Expo opens farmers to these solutions, which ideas they take home, but they need resources to tap into, that is why these funds have to be unlocked and made available. 80% of Zambian farmers are small scale who cannot access loans from banks as most cannot offer collateral. We need to have workable plans for these farmers.
Q: What about ZNFU, what do you have in mind about agriculture growth, about small scale farmers?
ZNFU is in the process of producing a Marshall Plan for short term, medium term and long term agricultural plans that, if adopted, could help propel the sector to a whole new level.
As ZNFU, we have an open-door policy and are open to discussions. We would like to share our ideas and plans with government and other stakeholders, and hence platforms like the Agritech Expo.
Farmers have already set the tone for the approach in agriculture development with many taking the diversification case very religiously.
We are seeing a shift in the way farmers are conducting business. Many are venturing into fruits and vegetables. There are some farmers that have started growing blueberries, macadamia nuts and such other cash crops. These need support by giving them incentives that would yield growth. They could be helped in the form of tax incentives. And look, the blueberry producer is expected to create 6000 jobs. Such developments need incentivising.
Q: What would be your last words?
For the country’s agriculture to post meaningful growth, it needs hedging against certain protocols that disadvantage local producers. Maybe the Head of State should think of declaring Zambia’s agriculture as infant.
Q: Thank you very much Mr. President.
You are welcome, and let us all enjoy the fifth Agritech Expo.