Find us on Google+

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Securing our food...

This fascinating article on the Food Security Pack Programme provides a good case for government to expand the agriculture sector and move Zambia to a position that would guarantee food security. Although Zambia's food production has increased in recent years following those dark periods of the IMF's SAP, Zambia's agricultural industry is now facing renewed threats in addition to existing structural weaknesses (e.g. higher transport costs given its landlocked position). These new threats include significant power shortages, the strengthening of the Kwacha with a potential knock on rural agriculture and of course rising costs of fuel which are adding significant to transport costs. To make matters worse, the government's agricultural policy seems to have lost some bearings of late, culminating in a disastrous decision in the recent budget to reduce spending on agriculture. At this critical point in time, when food prices are escalating Zambia has actually reduced spending on agriculture!

Most of these problems (aside from rising oil prices) are within our power to control and more should be done to address them. But I think there also other areas we need to look at as we move forward. As good as the Food Security Pack Programme is, we cannot afford it to be our last stand. I have two additional suggestions where attention also needs to turn.

First, the potential benefits of more mechanised farming should now be explored. With the impending crisis world over, should we not now be asking ourselves seriously whether we are doing enough in Zambia to expand our food basket? I think now is the time to look to the Brazilians and ask ourselves how they have been able to develop large farms. We have the land just as they do, why can't we put together the same programme in place? I would propose that to partly offset the strengthening of the Kwacha, we must now use the new revenues from mining taxes and pour them into mechanised farming. It must surely be the long term hope for feeding the many hungry mouths in our urban areas. I am confident that the Food Security Pack Programme will deliver what we need in the long term for our rural areas, but I am less confident it will deliver the sort of urgent demand for food that is needed in our urban areas.

Secondly, better investment in education and research. We need to create better educational institution that supports farmers. Statistics show that only 3% of graduates in the higher sectors study agriculture. This is both unsustainable and unacceptable.
Further investment is needed to encourage more research and development.

Finally, there is a case for reforming existing institutions such as the Food Reserve Agency (FRA), epecially in relation to how it deals with small scale farmers. The National Association and Small Scale Farmers of Zambia Associate have previously complained that the FRA sets the price too low and thereby discourages small scale farmers from going into maize farming. To make it worse, the FRA apparently rarely pays the farmers on time. The FRA has actually become a negative distortion in its own right, failing to provide the level of certainty in revenue streams that farmers desperately need to invest in more maize and other products. Is it any surprise that small farmers often have bad credit?

18 comments:

  1. First, the potential benefits of more mechanised farming should now be explored. With the impending crisis world over, should we not now be asking ourselves seriously whether we are doing enough in Zambia to expand our food basket?

    One of the main brakes on farming is that subsistence farmers can't farm more than a few hectares by hand, they don't make enough from that to buy machinery, which they don't need because they only have a few hectares of land. The key would be for the government to make sure farmers have more than enough land and that they have access to machinery. Also, there should be security of tenure, so farmers can invest in their land without fear of it being taken away by a chief or a politician or any connected businessman. Maybe families should have unlimited ownership of say 100 hectares - the average size of a commercial farm in Europe, and more than enough to make at least $10,000 per year off.

    I think now is the turn to look to the Brazilians and ask ourselves how they have been able to develop large farms. We have the land just as they do, why can't we put together the same programme in place? I would propose that to partly offset the strengthening of the Kwacha, we must now use the new revenues from mining taxes and pour them into mechanised farming.

    I would much rather see medium sized farms, hundreds of thousands of them. Those are much more sustainable that these huge agrobusinesses. One theory of bee colony collapse, is that bees are fed a diet of corn only, in the thousands and thousands of hectares of cornfiels in America's Midwest. Bees pollinate most of the crops in the world, and if their population would disappear, so would most of mankind. The benefit of having medium sized farms, is that they involve much more of the population and thereby spread wealth around, but also that they create diversity of crops and stock, that together with crop rotation interrupt disease and pest cycles, and thereby prevent them. This means that less pesticide is used, which saves money and improves the soil and insect life.

    Also, these 100 hectare farms could create spinoff businesses, which would be taken up by the farmer's relatives. Beside from growing staple crops, they would provide enough space to branch out into horticulture, livestock, bee and fish keeping, etc.

    I would rather look toward Zimbabwe, and their centrally planned agricultural revolution.

    Mechanisation: Missing link found (with lots of useful links on no-till farming from Yakima).

    Zimbabwe Landreform: We're Not About Tractors Per Se: Made (Interview)

    Govt to revamp irrigation infrastructure

    Over 1 000 tractors expected next year


    Finally, there is a case for reforming existing institutions such as the Food Reserve Agency (FRA), epecially in relation to how it deals with small scale farmers. The National Association and Small Scale Farmers of Zambia Associate have previously complained that the FRA sets the price too low and thereby discourages small scale farmers from going into maize farming. To make it worse, the FRA apparently rarely pays the farmers on time. The FRA has actually become a negative distortion in its own right, failing to provide the level of certainty in revenue streams that farmers desperately need to invest in more maize and other products. Is it any surprise that small farmers often have bad credit?

    How about this: a national, digital market for all agricultural products, that can be accessed by mobile phone by any farmer who is written up?

    That way, they could actually sell at national market prices, cut out middlemen from the process and be in control of the price against which they sell their products.

    Add to that a transport system that moves any farmer's goods to any markets in the country or the world.

    If the government built the infrastructure and maintained the roads, there would be few parts of the country that could not get agricultural goods to market and become part of the (global) economy.

    And add to that the proper hydrology so that runoff water is stored in dams or in the soil, and there can be harvests throughout the year, as farmers no longer need to rely on rain (97% do so today).

    ReplyDelete
  2. I would rather look toward Zimbabwe, and their centrally planned agricultural revolution.

    Gosh, if you absolutely want to look toward a centrally planned agricultural revolution, please look at one where output didn't collapse. Look at China, look at Cuba, look at Vietnam or some part of India but not Zimbabwe !

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yeah along with investments in farming technology Zambia needs to take advantage of this phase of a weak dollar and stronger Kwacha to recapitalize the old and decaying equipment at Indeni oil refinery and ZESCO power stations. It does not make sense to invest in combine harvesters and other farming technologies then have this equipment rendered useless due to fuel shortages or power cuts.


    Lusaka, Zambia

    ReplyDelete
  4. Diesel engines can be relatively easily converted to using biodiesel.

    In which case, farmers could produce their own fuel.

    In fact, if you add solar panels to that, we could do away with the entire, capital intensive approach to energy infrastructure, and at least massively reduce the amount of fossile fule that is consumed.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous,

    "Yeah along with investments in farming technology Zambia needs to take advantage of this phase of a weak dollar and stronger Kwacha to recapitalize the old and decaying equipment at Indeni oil refinery and ZESCO power stations."

    Certainly, a stronger Kwacha should make it easier to replenish. But that requires direct investment from government. The question really is what is the government's strategy for expanding agriculture? At the moment it appears to focus on simply delivering food security through smallholder agriculture...a more proactive approach would involve investing in larger farms...and as you say, the time could not have been more right...if the dollar remains weak and the Kwacha continues to appreciate (as seems the case) then agriculture exports would become less competitive..

    ReplyDelete
  6. MrK,

    "Also, there should be security of tenure, so farmers can invest in their land without fear of it being taken away by a chief or a politician or any connected businessman."

    We need to be wary of World Bank propaganda in these areas. Apparently the evidence on this is very weak. A study by Roth (2001) on Southern Province concluded:

    With reference to …. tenure security’s positive effects on agriculture (incentive to improve land, access to credit, and efficient land markets), this study so far finds evidence only for the first. The apparent under-utilisation of farmland in even this highly productive and commercialised study area suggests that problems of input supply and animal traction are more urgent in the short term than access to land and tenure security.'

    I have many other references that seem to suggest that for farmers the issue of tenure security is not necessarily a binding constraint. It appears simple basic inputs and so forth are necessary. Atleast the The Food Security Programme does seem to recognise that. But more government intervention at a massive scale is needed.

    Small - medium farms are romantic, but that won't feed anyone. We need massive investment...and yes, I support GM foods...

    ReplyDelete
  7. Cho,

    We need to be wary of World Bank propaganda in these areas. Apparently the evidence on this is very weak. A study by Roth (2001) on Southern Province concluded:

    There are also many reports of people being thrown of their land because it was bought up by a commercial farmer or politician.

    Look at all the reports that talk of 'squatters'. That is the majority of the population they're talking about.

    Zambia: Land law is a set-back to the dark ages
    The Land Act is causing millions of Zambians to be deprived of land and livelihood without any form of compensation. Its another apartheid, says an outspoken Zambian land activist, in her personal comment to the situation.
    By Lucy Sichone
    01. October 1998

    Nyirongo grabbed land meant for squatters, says senior land official
    By Inonge Noyoo
    Friday January 11, 2008 [03:00]

    A SENIOR Lands officer yesterday told the court that the land which former lands minister, Rev Gladys Nyirongo, fraudulently acquired for herself was intended to accommodate squatters. In his evidence led by Anti-Corruption Commission’s Martin Maembe, Harry Mwewa said the land in question was supposed to be replanned and given to squatters.

    Squatters in Kalulushi refuse to move
    By Zumani Katasefa
    Friday May 11, 2007 [04:00]

    KALULUSHI town clerk Maxwell Kabanda has said squatters at Sabina located at the Kalulushi-Mufulira junction have refused to move from the area where the Chinese investors are constructing a multi-million dollar smelter. In an interview on Wednesday, Kabanda said the squatters' resistance to move was unreasonable because the local authority had already found alternative land for them.


    Small - medium farms are romantic, but that won't feed anyone. We need massive investment...and yes, I support GM foods...

    They're not romantic.

    And *right now, most people are being fed through subsistence farming.*

    So stepping up from subsistence to 100 hectare commercial farming is going to massively increase food security on a sustainable basis.

    Don't listen to Random, he knows nothing about farming. :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Cho,

    The size of the average farm in the UK was 72 hectares (2002). If 100 hectare farms and smaller can feed the population of UK, which is 60 million, it can feed the population of Zambia, which is 11 million.

    Source: Report of the
    UK FARM CLASSIFICATION WORKING PARTY


    3 For Northern Ireland the need for structural change has long been an important issue and structural statistics have played a key role in monitoring agricultural development. The number of active farms fell by an average of 1.9% per year during 1992-2002 when average farm size increased from 31 ha to 37 ha, still small in a UK context. The UK average for 2002 was 72 ha.

    ReplyDelete
  9. The size of the average farm in the UK was 72 hectares (2002). If 100 hectare farms and smaller can feed the population of UK, which is 60 million, it can feed the population of Zambia, which is 11 million. 


    If only that was true.. The UK is a net food importer. It imports around $11 billions more food than it exports. The local agriculture, for all its mechanisation and modernity only produces less than 60% of the food needs.

    Beyond that, an average doesn't say much about the production or the productivity. There are more than 12 000 large holdings and about 5,000 very large holdings. For all I know, those could be producing the bulk of UK's food and the small holdings could be involved in specialized businesses.
    And may be the fact that the large holdings are in the South (which is the arable-land region), the fact that 45% land in UK is used for pasture and the fact that the UK produces a lot of poultry should give some clues about what is done in the smaller holdings, which is raising livestock (which in the case of sheep and poultry doesn't take much room, especially in an industrialized country)


    Sources:
    http://www.fao.org/es/ess/yearbook/vol_1_2/pdf/United-Kingdom.pdf
    http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/IW3P/IB/2008/01/02/000158349_20080102095804/Rendered/PDF/wps4457.pdf
    http://statistics.defra.gov.uk/esg/ace/b1_data.htm
    http://www.ukagriculture.com/uk_farming.cfm


    And your link is broken, it should be :
    http://statistics.defra.gov.uk/esg/reports/ukfcwp.pdf

    ReplyDelete
  10. MrK,

    A recent article by CSO noted that nearly all the poor regarded lack of "agricultural input" as the main reason why they are poor.

    "The 2006 Living Conditions Monitoring Survey results have also revealed the reasons why the households perceived themselves to be poor. About one in every five households (20.6 percent) revealed that inability to afford agricultural inputs was the reason why they were poor. Low salary/ wage as the cause of poverty was reported by 10.6 percent of the households while, lack of employment opportunities accounted for 7.5 percent. Lack of capital to start own business or to expand credit facilities was another reason that was mentioned accounting for 6.9 percent of the households. Analysis by residence show that rural households considered inability to afford agricultural inputs as the leading factor contributing to their poverty status at 28.1 percent. As for urban areas, the main reasons that were attributed to their poverty status was low salaries/wages with 24 percent, lack of employment opportunities with 15.6 percent and lack of capital to start/expand their business with 12.2 percent."

    You can read the CSO April Edition, blogged earlier this month, for more discussion. It has a nice summary table in there that brings it all together.

    Of course the lack "affordability of inputs" may be caused by ineffective access to credit. However, it is interesting that only a few respondents perhaps saw that connection. Or may be they did but for cultural reasons they prefer not to secure inputs through credits? Which in itself should make us cautious on the "credit solves everything" approach. Besides, in many rural areas there's no credit facilities period.

    Of course all this is irrelevant, because the central question is what do poor people think can help them most. We have established that "inputs" are key. The next question then is how to make these inputs available.

    If tenure security helps leverage credit and then allows them to get inputs, then fine. But I think that is too purist and unlikely to move us at FAST pace. Remember we are not just for solutions, but QUICK and effective solutions.

    This is why I think broader government intervention is necessary along the lines I have described. Let us expand the Food Security Programme, Fertiliser Support Programme, and let us start building very large farms....

    ReplyDelete
  11. Random,

    "If only that was true.. The UK is a net food importer. It imports around $11 billions more food than it exports. The local agriculture, for all its mechanisation and modernity only produces less than 60% of the food needs."

    lol!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Random,

    The UK is a net food importer. It imports around $11 billions more food than it exports.

    1) Most of that is going to be luxury foods, as well as cheap imported foods from the rest of the EU during times they cannot be grown in Britain, such as fresh vegetables during winter. It reflects consumer preference, not food insecurity.

    (Food security and the UK The decline in the self-sufficiency of our food supplies does not mean that food security has worsened. Rather it relates to agriculture’s ability to meet consumer demands. Wide sourcing and open markets have produced remarkable resilience in our food supplies in recent decades.)

    2) During WWII, when it's population was about 47 million, the UK was 100% selfsufficient in food production for several years. Which population wise is way beyond Zambia's 11 million people.

    3) It doesn't undermine my central point

    which is that the majority of all food is already grown by subsistence farmers. In fact introducing agrobusinesses might put a lot of them out of business, the way opening up borders to US imports put Jamaican farmers out of business and NAFTA has put many Mexican and South American farmers out of business. Enable subsistence farmers to move up to commercial production, and they will produce more food, beyond what people grow to feed themselves. Also, the introduction of agrobusinesses (especially foreign owned agrobusinesses) creates another schism between the population and the economy. We've seen too much of that with FDI.

    Increased irrigation, increased mechanisation and enough infrastructure to get products to market will mean that more food will be produced, leading to greater incomes *if Zambian farmers, not agrobusinesses* are at the core of policy.


    Cho,

    Of course the lack "affordability of inputs" may be caused by ineffective access to credit.

    The way I see it, is that there is a vicious cycle of poverty. If people simultaneously have too little land to afford machinery, while at the same time not needing machinery because they only have enough land to work by hand, it takes an outside force like government to help farmers with both access to more land and machinery. Add to that lack of infrastructure to get produce to market and lack of earthworks that would keep water on the land (through swales, small dams, or terracing, or just contour plowing) and you can explain both why there is relatively little output, as well as show the way forward.

    Also, instead of borrowing against the value of their land (which would mean they could be thrown off their land if they fail to pay in time, which is counterproductive), they could borrow against (or use as collateral) future harvests. It would involve more risk on behalf of the lender, but it can be done. Also, once farmers have more income, they can save money and buy machinery themselves. Or machinery can be rented to increase flexibility.

    On inputs. Farmers, through permaculture, crop rotation and the production of organic manures, can become input independent. As such it is not a matter of credit, but of information.

    The book you have on small scale farming has several chapters on crop rotation and green manuring, which together either eliminate or greatly reduce the need for fertilizers.

    Then, there is composting (which adds both organic matter and some nutrients to the soil) and worm composting, which produces the highest quality fertilizer known to man.

    On the benefits of vermiculture:

    EarthwormsWhere Slimy Isn't All That Bad

    Beyond being spread on the land as worm castings, worm manure can be made into a worm tea (the amount produced is relative to the size of the container; a process that is very simple - simply put some wormcastings in a container, add water and let it sit for a few weeks). Worm casting or worm tea can be spread on the land just like any other fertilizer. Comfrey (also good in compost heaps) and stinging nettles can also be used to make fertilizer.

    ReplyDelete
  13. During WWII, when it's population was about 47 million, the UK was 100% selfsufficient in food production for several years. Which population wise is way beyond Zambia's 11 million people. 


    From the article you linked:


    "Food imports have been a crucial element of Britain’s food supply since the industrial revolution. They
    were severely disrupted during the two world wars. Maintaining food supply then involved securing the
    flow of imports, as well as boosting home production."

    This is the data:
    1750 – 1830s around 90-100% except for poor harvests
    1870s around 60%
    1914 around 40%
    1930s 30 - 40%
    1950s 40 - 50%
    1980s 60 – 70%
    2000s 60%

    Also does the WWII self-sufficiency involve the colonies ? And do we decide to think of Wartime rationing measures as desirable ?


    As far as luxury and out-of-season foods, I need to see some figures. But on the FAO profile I posted above, it was clear the UK, once again a livestock agriculture country, produces less meat than it imports, barely enough milk and is quite tight on the cereals (most of it is used to feed livestock).
    And with the Netherlands, France and Ireland being main agricultural import sources... hmm hmm.

    which is that the majority of all food is already grown by subsistence farmers.

    Yes, unefficiently, at low productivity and at high prices for the consumers.

    In fact introducing agrobusinesses might put a lot of them out of business, the way opening up borders to US imports put Jamaican farmers out of business and NAFTA has put many Mexican and South American farmers out of business.

    But Cho is talking about consolidating Zambian agriculture. Making it more efficient and productive so that the food prices go down and people more to other activities.

    Yes, it will put many of them out business but they will be replaced by other Zambian businesses.

    (and i'm still baffled by the fact you think Jamaican consumers don't count).

    leading to greater incomes *if Zambian farmers, not agrobusinesses* are at the core of policy

    What if it's Zambian agribusinesses ?

    Also, instead of borrowing against the value of their land (which would mean they could be thrown off their land if they fail to pay in time, which is counterproductive), they could borrow against (or use as collateral) future harvests. It would involve more risk on behalf of the lender, but it can be done.

    It is and has been done. Mostly with export crops, because it's easier to seize exports.
    But here's the question: if a family looses their crop because they fail to pay in time, aren't they in the same bad situation as one who lost their land ?

    And beyond that, how many future crops does one borrow against to pay off a loan to buy a tractor ?

    ReplyDelete
  14. Random,

    Are you saying that RIGHT NOW, the majority of food grown in Zambia is not grown by subsistence farmers?

    ReplyDelete
  15. Are you saying that RIGHT NOW, the majority of food grown in Zambia is not grown by subsistence farmers?

    I'm saying that right now the fact that the majority of food grown in Zambia is grown by subsistence farmers is a problem and causes high food prices, insecure food supply and, yes, rural poverty.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Random,

    You say a lot but you drift far and wide from the heart of the matter.

    The original statement was that small farms can feed the nation.

    I'm saying that right now the fact that the majority of food grown in Zambia is grown by subsistence farmers is a problem and causes high food prices, insecure food supply and, yes, rural poverty.

    So your answer is yes. And if it didn't exist, it would cause starvation.

    And subsistence farmers cause high food prices, insecure food supply and rural poverty??

    Yes, small farms can feed the nation. They do in Britain and throughout the EU. In other words, there is nothing wrong in having an agricultural sector consisting of farms which on average are 100 hectares, or in Britain's case, 72 hectares.

    In fact, it is about the optimum size for a family sized farm.

    I'm sorry, but I'm getting more than a little tired of having to point out the obvious.

    ReplyDelete
  17. So your answer is yes. And if it didn't exist, it would cause starvation. 


    Once upon a time our ancestors were hunters and gatherers, even after agriculture was introduced, a significant part of our food supply came from hunting.

    Would you have argued back then that if hunting was replaced by say livestock farming, starvation would follow ?

    I mean what is your point ?

    And subsistence farmers cause high food prices, insecure food supply and rural poverty??

    when is the last time any of those happened in a place where subsistence farming wasn't dominant ?

    Yes, small farms can feed the nation. They do in Britain and throughout the EU. In other words, there is nothing wrong in having an agricultural sector consisting of farms which on average are 100 hectares, or in Britain's case, 72 hectares.

    It's really simple. You pulled out data from the UK and it was wrong. But that's not the main point either.
    The main point that you typically ignored was how relevant the average farm size is to prove your point.
    How do you know that the UK doesn't have an agricultural seector where most of the productivity comes from the biggest farms while the rest are either too specialized or too subsidized to meaningfully contribute to food security ?

    I don't claim to know what the optimal farm size is. And I don't believe such an universal measure exists. I don't advocate for a limit of land holdings for each farm operation. I'm just asking questions that you dodge before claiming to be tired of repeating the obvious.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Just in case anyone is still in love with the idea of the factory farm, check out:

    Michael Pollan: The Omnivore's DilemmaThe UC Davis Mondavi Center presents bestselling author and UC Berkeley journalism professor Michael Pollan. He explores the ecology of eating to unveil why we consume what we consume in the twenty-first century. Michael Pollan is the author, most recently, of The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Series: Mondavi Center Presents

    ReplyDelete

All contributors should follow the basic principles of a productive dialogue: communicate their perspective, ask, comment, respond,and share information and knowledge, but do all this with a positive approach.

This is a friendly website. However, if you feel compelled to comment 'anonymously', you are strongly encouraged to state your location / adopt a unique nick name so that other commentators/readers do not confuse your comments with other individuals also commenting anonymously.