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Monday, 8 December 2008

Food Watch (Magoye)

There has been increasing reports of many areas in our nation, where villages or towns have been running out of food. This "food watch" thread will help track of these stories, while hoping and praying that something is being done with those with the power to make things happen :

Magoye runs out food (ZNBC News, 07/12/08) : Hunger is said to be stalking villagers in Magoye in Southern Province. Area memeber of Parliament, Bennie Mweemba, has appealed to the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit-DMMU- to send relief food to the area. He said people in Magoye have resorted to eating unripe mangoes and other wild fruits due to lack of food. Mr. Mweemba also bemoaned the slow pace at which fertiliser is being distributed in his area. He told ZNBC news that this will affected food production in the area.


  1. There has been increasing reports of many areas in our nation, where villages or towns have been running out of food. This "food watch" thread will help track of these stories, while hoping and praying that something is being done with those with the power to make things happen :

    When is enough enough? A much abused word, but it is appropriate in the case of the Zambian government's disinterest in the welfare of it's own people.

    We need a diversified agricultural sector that is in the hands of the people, not foreign corporations or agribusinesses.

    We need to take some of the $1bn the government has in reserves, and invest it in agriculture.

    I have suggested the creation of thousands of 100 hectare organic farms, which can sustainably feed the nation for centuries to come, while keeping most of the profits in the hands of farmers, who are in the best position to create new agriculturally based businesses.

    If we demand that half of their land is dedicated to staples (maize, sorghum, cassava, potatos), there will always be enoug food, which means prices will come down too.

    I would also be open to revamping the existing farm cooperatives - which have been massively neglected.

    Then there is the issue of getting food to market, which is where rural infrastructure comes in.

    Only 3% of Zambia's agriculture is under permanent irrigation, limiting 97% of Zambia's agricultural land to a single harvest per year. Increase irrigation, and you make two or more harvest per year possible, which would increase output and lower prices.

    There is a Food Task Force on the way, and it should be a real task force.

    In the short term, the government should secure the food supply by increasing storage. However, that is only a short term solution.

    We need a professional agricultural sector, that is not in the hands of a tiny number of people but that has broadbased ownership.

    I have a few ideas about creating agricultural blocks that will feed thousands of people and create high incomes for hundreds of people per block.

    So if we can expand on that topic, let's do that.

  2. MrK,

    I very much share your frustration! lol!

    The "Food Task Force" to me sounds like politicking. How long ago was the 5th National Development Plan created? About Vision 2030?

    I have always said the proper approach for any government is to follow the time tested approach of publishing Green and White Papers. Let those go through formal consultation and become policy.

    Let us have a Green Paper on Agriculture, which seeks to address all these issues and invite comments from all stakeholders...and then a White Paper can emerge....

    The problem is that government does not things this is closet decision making and no real consultation....

    Developing agriculture is a no brainer...

  3. Cho,

    A green paper/white paper approach would be a lot better than the secrecy that is prevalent today.

    I was thinking also of an Agriculture Czar, someone with personal expertise and knowledge and direct access to the President, who can cut through all the red tape and ministerial politics and get things done in case of an emergency such as this.

    What do you make of Maureen Mwanawasa's statement that the government should be open to new ideas and consult widely?

    There seems to be a new consensus emerging that this emergency cannot be left to politics as usual.

  4. Does anyone know what the current subsidies on a bag of mealie meal amount to in total? The number of bags being subsidized?

    Considering for the moment that planning was insufficient and imports more extensive and expensive than they had to be, without dwelling on questions of blame, but making a forward-looking comparison from long term averages to the present: How much extra is currently being expended?

    In order to improve food security in imperfect growing seasons, wouldn't it be reasonable to budget an equal amount toward food source diversification (both genetic and geographic) in each of the coming years, over and above the ordinary agriculture support budget, even if it too must be borrowed?

  5. MrK,

    Talk of a national economic convention abound...but I am not getting my suit ready :)


    The government subsidies the Food Research Agency who in theory should not really need subsidies, but for whatever reason they do, especially when they import from abroad.

    The government therefore does not subsidise mealie meal direct like it used to do with food coupons...but of course it subsidisies inputs.

    Its a bit of complicated picture...but the best place to start is to refer to the FSRP research and website on the Zambia food position..

    A google search at the bottom or the agriculture tag cloud should lead you to some blogs related to this....

    Alternatively their website. We are fortunate to have one or two links their... any tough questions can be easily answered...

  6. Cho,

    Great sources, thanks, I will try to track down the numbers I am hoping for. One thing that seems clear from the data I have reviewed so far, is that investment in crop diversification for small farmers (following education in farming "as a business," if necessary) has economic benefits in both good years and bad ones.

    From the Agriculture Support Programme (ASP) sponsored by Sweden, in discussing the affects of the drought in 2005, "The study noted that ASP farmers were less affected than non–ASP farmers due to the diverse food basket, a result of crop and enterprise diversification employed as effective drought mitigation measures. Generally the ASP farmers operated at higher income levels almost everywhere. The ASP farmers could show that they had been facilitated and exposed to a wide range of mitigation measures which they had adopted including planting basins, early planting, planting of the right type of certified seed for their particular areas of domain and raising of local chickens and goats etc. A good number were also engaged in various on farm enterprises as well as some off farm income generating activities. When it came to coping measures the study noted that:
    • ASP farmers were engaged in a wider range of coping measures than Non-ASP farmers.
    • Piecework was the most favoured measure for ensuring food security for Non- ASP farmers while for ASP farmers it was selling of livestock and on farm activities.
    • ASP farmers engaged in coping measures that had both short and long term benefits while the Non-ASP farmers were more for those with short term benefits and quick returns responding to immediate livelihood demands."

    While continued and expanded support for maize to provide adequate supplies of mealie meal for the nation are important, equal emphasis on diversification activities will produce better results, especially in crises such as droughts. Giving farmers the knowledge and experience to utilize multiple coping strategies will cushion the impact of crises, and speed recovery, even enhance farm health over the long term.

  7. The so called 'food shortage' is also partially psychological. When are we going to wean ourselves off from this redundant idea that food is 'nshima' 'maize' or 'mealie meal'. There are other sources of caborhydrates that we should promote. How about going back to the basics. For example the govt should put up a support structure for the growing of Sorghum in western and Southern province, cassava in Luapula, western , northwestern and northern provinces. These are the traditional crops we had before we got addicted to the curse of the south american plant we now call our staple. Sorghum and Cassava do not need the expensive chemicals that are used in growing maize. For us to be bellyful we seriously need to liberate our minds.

  8. Potatoes are also good for solving a food shortage:'could-solve-food-shortage'.html

  9. What is needed is agricultural education. The attitude seems to be that subsistence farmers have learned all they need to know is what they learned in primary school and commercial farmers only need to know how to grow tobacco on prime land.

    Some time ago I had a discussion with someone who told me they couldn't use certain land because it was clay. To which I answered that lots of clay soil is used for growing potatoes.

    The way you make clay soil suitable, is by improving drainage, and mix in compost and some sand, but especially compost. The way some farmers do that is by spreading a thick layer of organic refuse (leafs, grass clippings, and covering that with black plastic to speed up the decomposition process.

    Also, thick rooted plants like potatoes loosen up the soil for other crops by pushing soil upwards as their roots grow.

    Then, there is an underuse of drought resistant crops like cassava and sorghum.

    And of cours finally, instead of growing cotton, which has such a limited optimal habitat that it needs lots of pesticides and fertilizer to grow, grow good old fashioned hemp as a fiber crop. Hemp doesn't need pesticides or herbicides, and barely needs fertilizer.

  10. "The so called 'food shortage' is also partially psychological." - Frank


    On cassava, see Maintaining the cassava boom.... The crop is being grown, the trouble is commercialisation.

    But you are right that this is more of a distributional issue. The urbanites prefer maize, and since the urbanites are more vocal, food security has become equated with maize.

    I would like to see some of the issues raised by FSRP in that paper addressed by GRZ.

    I have no references on the state of Sorghum.

    Fish farming surely must be considered as something that needs to be explored at a massive scale? I fail to see why Zambia is not a big player in this area.

  11. Cho,
    "Fish farming surely must be considered as something that needs to be explored at a massive scale? I fail to see why Zambia is not a big player in this area."

    Maybe same experience as Zimbabwe
    "Zimbabweans generally prefer red meat and chicken to fish"

  12. Or sorghum? Another very drought resistant crop. There is a book called "Lost Crops Of Africa - Vol.1 Grains" which gives descriptions of several traditional drought resistant grains and their growing conditions.

    ‘Cassava vital for food security’
    GOVERNMENT says cassava has assumed greater importance to national food security due to the soaring world food prices, coupled with increases in the price of fertilizer.

    Minister of Agriculture Brian Chituwo said this in a speech read on his behalf by his deputy Albert Mulonga during the launch of the media campaign to promote the use of cassava in Lusaka yesterday.


    Govt to list cassava as second priority crop
    By Joan Chirwa
    Friday August 15, 2008 [03:00]

    ZAMBIA and other African governments should increase investments in research and development to boost farmers’ cassava yields as a promising industrial crop, scientists have advised. And agriculture and co-operatives minister Ben Kapita said the government has noted the need to list cassava as the second priority crop from maize.


    Cassava milling plant to be installed, says Siame
    By Mwila Chansa in Kitwe
    Sunday August 17, 2008 [04:01]

    LUAPULA Province acting permanent secretary Clement Siame has said the cassava milling plant donated by World Food Programme (WFP) will be installed at the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) building in Mansa.


  13. MrK,

    "Or sorghum?" I agree there is potential there, not only for grains, but for use as a sweetener. Information for farmers and processors is available from the USDA, site.

  14. New soil map for Africa being developed:

  15. Yes! Bravo! Looks like the Gates Foundation is finally getting around to realizing there is more to fertilizer than subsidies. Let us hope that the FSP can follow suit. This programme is a fantastic start, especially if they can really cover every hectare in four years. Although ideally this should be every year or even every season, to understand the effects of fertilization and the rate of runoff, this is a great start!

    I am especially concerned over copper concentration in several provinces sharing watersheds with mine tailings. Copper is a necessary trace element, but can prevent uptake of nitrogen if too much is present. That would render current efforts at fertilization increasingly futile, until proper crop rotation and nutrient balancing can return copper to acceptable levels. The costs of proper testing are prohibitive for most rural farmers, so it is excellent that outside scientists are willing to take on the initial phase of testing at least.

  16. Yakima,

    I was thinking about the need for detailed maps for Keyline irrigation and cultivation patterns. However, Keyline was conceived decades ago.

    Perhaps maps can be made through satellite imaging, like Google Earth?

  17. MrK,

    I think that some satellites can generate highly accurate topographical maps, but they are mostly still military. I looked into the costs involved with tasking commercial imaging satellites, and its pretty astronomical still (no pun intended), with the best quality images (1m resolution in multiple wavelengths), already on file selling for five figures US$ each. Tasking flights to get new images made my head swim adding up fees to technical specialists. Rocket science still isn't cheap! And I gather that satellites that don't earn a living relaying billions of messages or spying for the pentagon are still in short supply.

    Much as I love Google Earth, I am often frustrated by the obvious inaccuracy of the elevation data presented (though sometimes it is not really all that inaccurate, just displaced from the overhead image being presented). I find that to get a rough idea of the rate of fall of a river or the height of the valley rim along its edge, I have to wave the mouse pointer back and forth over the image at several angles first.

    The best solution for introducing keylining in Zambia is probably either to target the few large and medium sized commercial farms directly, creating a standard to be matched by future entrants; or as tribal/community projects utilizing volunteer labour and minimal paid surveying/engineering. Possibly as a result of hands-on ecotourism promotion if local skills and/or funding are lacking.

    Getting some kind of official recognition of the process as adding value to the leasehold on the land would probably facilitate the development of specialized agricultural extension service providers offering keyline and other passive and/or low cost irrigation systems.

  18. Aquaculture fish food introduced:


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