Agriculture is a huge contributor to the development and identity of Zambia. Her rich soils and favourable climate have provided a portal for the farming sector to acquire a large variety of crops to be farmed countrywide.
It is the same favourable climate that has brought to light the importance of crop diversification and why the country must adopt it.
Crop diversification is a type of technology that involves the addition of new crops or cropping systems to the agricultural production of a particular farm for the purpose of adding nutritional value to the diet, for the use and benefits of crop rotation and to increase income among other things.
This technology strengthens a farmer’s harvest through increase in yields, improving drought resilience, increasing resistance to pests and diseases and to catch the market with the introduction and demand of certain crops.
As a matter of fact, Chipata District Agricultural Coordinator Phillimon Lungu says that Zambia has very fertile soils and a favorably warm climate that is suitable for farming a wide range of crops that can be grown throughout the year including during the dry season using irrigation.
He says that crop diversification is extremely important, especially in this era of climate change.
The dependency on maize farming alone has become suicidal because it is no longer certain what pattern the rainfall may take during a particular farming season and how vicious some pests would become.
The maize crop is Zambia’s staple food and is farmed by every farmer in the country, be it small-scale or commercial farmers. But with the emergence of climate change and the gruesome army worm, the crop has proven vulnerable to the changes that the earth is undergoing.
It is therefore very important for the farmers to be cautious of what type of seed they use for farming to avoid some of these problems. The farmer must make sure that the seed in use is certified and of the right variety for the climate conditions the country is facing.
“With the maize, we have different types of seeds that are distinguished according to their maturity levels. We have the early maturing, medium maturing and late maturing seeds. For instance, the most advisable type of seed in Chipata is the early maturing seed because of the uncertainty of the rainfall pattern as a result of climate change.”Says Mr. Lungu
He adds that the Eastern Province of Zambia is rich with a wide variety of crops such as tobacco and cotton which are referred to as cash crops and food crops such as maize, soya beans, beans, groundnuts, sunflower and pigeon peas which has been newly introduced to the province.
The pigeon pea has recently been adopted by the province and is being promoted by the Ministry of Agriculture because of its distinct advantages. Interestingly, it is a crop that does not require heavy rainfall, making it extremely ideal for small-scale farmers. It is capable of surviving throughout the dry season when firmly rooted in the soil.
And according to Dr. Alina Mofokeng, the pigeon pea could play a huge role in sustaining the livelihood of poor rural African populations due to the increased demand of nutritional foods among most African countries.
One advantage of crop diversification is that in the case of one crop having an unfavorable harvest, the farmer can rely on the other crops that were farmed and did well during the same season. This requires the farmer to have adequate knowledge of a variety of crops following the different advantages they possess.
“There are some plants that are drought tolerant and those that are not, others are pest tolerant while others are not. So in the case of an outbreak of certain pests, a farmer can rely on the plants that are pest tolerant or haven’t been affected by the outbreak for a good harvest.”Adds Mr. Lungu.
The beauty behind this strategy is that the farmer will still have something to harvest at the end of the season either for food or for sale or even both. This also provides a wide range of dietary nutrition for the household because for the variety of crops being farmed by one farmer.
He further says that farmers in Chipata District have embraced crop diversification for the purpose of economic growth, food and nutrition security and adaptation towards climate change.
During the 2018/2019 farming season, each farmer in the district through the Farmers Input Support Program (FISP) was handed either maize and soya beans or maize and groundnuts for the farming season in order to promote crop diversification and rotation. Even the farmers that are not under the FISP have involved themselves in crop diversification.
Crop rotation is a method of planting different crops on a given piece of land in a particular order. The crops are then rotated every farming season in order to retain the soil’s fertility, reduce soil erosion and prevent crop diseases and pests.
“Crop rotation is best approached when the farmer rotates crops that mine nutrients from the soil with crops that retain the nutrients. Crops such as maize, tobacco and cotton only mine nutrients from the soil. But if they bring in rotation with legumes like cow peas, groundnuts or soya beans, you’re assured of retained nutrients and a healthy harvest. You will, additionally, reduce soil erosion and pest attack”Says Mr. Lungu.
Aside from crop rotation, diversification also brings to light the advantage of providing stable financial inflow for the farmers through selling their produce to the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) and indeed the local citizens.
Eastern province acting Senior Field Crops Officer, Mr. Lubanze Holmes says that when it comes to issues dealing with price fluctuation, if a farmer diversifies crop production, they will be able to withstand the shocks of price fluctuation of the farm produce.
“You may find that in some instances, the price of maize in that season is very low, going at K2 per kg, groundnuts at K5 and soya beans at K6 per kg. This means that if farmers diversified, they would have made profits from the groundnuts and soya beans despite the price of maize being so low.”Says Mr. Lubanze.
He says that this is a time where money is as necessary as food in order to enable the household to be financially stable and achieve the daily citizenry duties such as paying the children’s school fees and to acquire the utilities necessary for their education. Also to buy certain food and groceries that they cannot produce themselves.
He adds that as much as the Ministry of Agriculture encourages crop diversification, the farmers should look at their resource envelopes because each crop they’ll farm will need resources pumped into them from the planting stage to consumption or sale.
The resources required may be the land available for farming, human resources in form of labor and financial resources when buying fertilizers and pesticides.
So the farmer must make judicial decisions on what crops they should farm looking at the resources that are available for use during the entire season.
It would be pointless to farm 4 to 5 types of crops without the firm hand of insuring that they are well taken care of alongside high yields. It is best to stick to farming crops that will be well looked after and produce high yields enough for both consumption and generation of income.
Otherwise, when well-planned and prepared for, crop diversification is the future of farming in Zambia and must be adopted by each farmer.
Its advantages are endless and highly beneficial especially with the current climate conditions.