Thursday, January 20

2005's Crop Production Looks Good

In past years, Zambia has suffered from severe food shortages, due largely to uncooperative rainy seasons. In 2002, for example, 2.3 million people needed food aid.

Recently, Zambia seems to have bounced back. Thanks to a bumper harvest this year, brought on by adequate rainfall and government subsidies, Zambia is now in the position to feed many of its neighbors. According to Deputy Agriculture Minister Chance Kabaghe, Zambian farmers
"do not want to be given food [aid], they want to produce - all we are doing is facilitating them to produce and, once they reach a sustainable level, then we will not have to subsidise them. Last year we helped 150,000 small-scale farmers, and we intend to do the same this year and next year, and then re-examine the strategy."
Many farmers are shifting from strict subsistence farming to inter-planting high-value crops that yield a higher return on investment (e.g., cotton, tobacco, groundnuts). This is a good idea. However, government needs to be catious not to promote high-return crops so zealously that farmers fail to plant food for themselves.

I saw Zambians who thought they could earn big money by growing and selling cotton. At harvest, so many farmers had planted cotton, surplus outstripped demand, and purchasers paid rock-bottom prices for the cotton. Ultimately, the farmers had very little money and virtually no food stock: they were in worse shape than if they had simply harvested maize.