In a bid to boost maize production, the government engaged farmers with irrigation capacity to grow early maize before the new rain-fed harvest.
Zambia National Farmers’ Union president Jervis Zimba has observed that all efforts have now been mutilated because notwithstanding the assurances made that power supply would be available to ensure productive sectors such as agriculture continue to operate,
the situation in the farming areas has worsened as farmers have now been hit by the 18 to 21 hours of load shedding every day.
“Sadly, the maize which was planted earlier is now wilting while what was
recently planted is stressed at germination phase. It is disheartening that there are residential areas that are NOT load shed at all and we can attest to this. This is clear evidence of misplaced priorities in determining who should be load shedded or not? It is also difficult to determine which door to knock on to get the right answers, which is frustrating,” Mr. Zimba said.
He added that to say that the energy crisis is the final nail in the coffin for the farming sector in Zambia is an understatement because the anticipated losses from the futile efforts to grow irrigated maize are astronomical hence false hopes that power would be made available for maize production should have never been created in the first place.
“It is also important to realize that the frustrations which early maize farmers are facing is only but a tip of the problems which farmers are going through because sugar out grower schemes are faced with withering cane plants, tree crop investments such as coffee, avocado, macadamia and citrus fruits which take years of sunk costs are withering, time for curing of tobacco is here and costs are escalating because of diesel generated power for curing, not to mention the cost of running must have cold chain facilities required for fisheries, livestock products and fruits/vegetables which are highly perishable products. In our view, justification for powering the agricultural sector is so compelling in comparison to other sectors,” Mr Zimba said.
He demand that the Union needs to know by how many hours the mining, hotels and other sectors are subjected to load shedding in comparison to primary agriculture for transparency and equity.
“Truth be said, someone within the Energy Sector (be it at the Ministry of Energy or at the power utility) should be made accountable for failure to take timely measures to counter the energy crisis which has crippled the country,” Mr Zimba said.
He believes that not only will farmers incur massive losses for getting involved in growing maize under irrigation, but other industries as well who are badly affected by load shedding.
“For this, posterity will judge all harshly should the country have to engage in importation of maize at prices we dare not predict at this juncture simply because of failure to get our priorities right. In our view, what is happening is the highest order of negligence as the country has plenty pool of skilled manpower which could be properly utilised in planning to avert such crisis,” Mr Zimba said.
The Farmers Union has urged farmers to exercise great caution before engaging in new ventures as the risks in farming evolve continuously.
“Can you imagine that the private sector rewards some people who do nothing but frustrate Government efforts by paying them salaries through hard earned taxpayers’ income? Our
verdict is that heads should roll over what is happening in the energy sector because the crisis keeps raging; farmers can only turn to Government for expectations,” said Mr. Zimba.