STRENGTHEN THE BASE

Zambia 2017 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Hon. Dora Siliya, Minister of Agriculture, on the investments being made in agriculture to enable agricultural households, diversifying Zambia's basket of produce, and making international markets more accessible for local producers.

Hon. Dora Siliya
BIOGRAPHY
Hon. Dora Siliya was born in Kitwe. She has served in several positions within cabinet, including Minister of Energy and Water Development, Minister of Education, and Minister of Transport and Communication. She is currently a Member of Parliament for Petauke Central. She has worked in diplomacy, development, broadcasting, and marketing.

How is the Ministry working toward a “green revolution" in Zambia?

The country has been talking about diversification for a long time and in September 2016 the president made a deliberate move in parliament when he announced plans for a “green revolution." In line with this, in 2017 we have seen the budget for agriculture grow by over 158%. To us, diversity does not just mean moving the economy from mining to agriculture, but completely radicalizing the agriculture industry. Currently, 70% of Zambia's working population is involved in some sort of agricultural activity, and agriculture only accounts for 9% of the country's GDP. My target is to increase this to 20% in the next few years, and we will do this by investing in research and extension services. It is important to make informed decisions about agriculture, both from an economic and a technical point of view, such as soil and fertilizer testing. Furthermore, we need to be able to track the income growth of farmers and measure the impact our reforms and energy is having on the sector. We will, therefore, compile a database. In the 2017 budget, there is a zero rating mechanization incentive for tractors and spare parts, which is important, because if we are going to diversify and increase productivity, we need technology. We also have plans to create about 20 bulk water sites as major irrigation points to support a number of agriculture communities. We intend for this to be the first part of a nationwide water infrastructure of canals and dams, managed by technological innovation, to cushion farmers from bad weather cycles.

What incentives is the ministry putting in place to boost crop diversification?

Zambia has been a monocrop economy for far too long. The majority of farmers in Zambia, close to 2 million agricultural households, grow mostly maize. To encourage crop diversification in 2017 we are supporting 10 crops with a smart subsidy of 75% for the production of orange maize, sorghum, millet, groundnuts, cotton, rice, soybeans, and cassava. In the past, the government has only procured maize, but as we encourage the private sector we must provide a market for all the other crops, particularly cassava, which can be used as a food source, as a starch in industry, and for export. One of the real pillars of my ministership is a new communication strategy in terms of transforming the food culture in Zambia. In this country, yellow maize is associated with hardship and poverty, because in the past when the country had tremendous challenges in producing white maize, yellow maize was imported into the country. We have to change that mindset and to do this we should call upon partners, stakeholders, and NGOs in food-related business to work together to change the mind-set of Zambians.

How will the ministry increase Zambia's participation in regional markets?

Our plans for free trade zones, particularly in Kasumbalesa, are coming into focus. The DRC is almost a part of Zambia in terms of food supply, meaning this market is huge, not just for large businesses like Zambeef but also for small farmers in poultry and eggs. We have an agreement with the DRC in regards to illegal trade along the border, which stretches almost 1,000km and makes it difficult for us to have formal trade. However, following discussions with the Minister of Finance we are debating how best to formalize this so-called “illegal" trade, by creating a free trade zone where everyone could be trading in a structured manner and with one currency, the dollar. Many companies have been reluctant to open businesses on that side of the border, because they are concerned about regulations and system frameworks for companies in DRC. With this, we could open up a booming market and considerable opportunities for Zambia.