Zambia is a landlocked, sparsely populated country in south-eastern Africa. Prone to both droughts and floods, it also has some of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world. Such challenges have depleted the assets of farmers and left many facing hunger.
Agriculture accounts for around 72 percent of all employment in Zambia; however, the poor use of land resources has severely degraded the soil, making it difficult for farmers to raise agricultural production beyond subsistence levels.
Increasing costs of fertilizers, other agricultural inputs and transport have also made local production of food crops more expensive.
Food price crisis
The rising cost of maize and other staples in 2007 and 2008 posed significant problems for already food insecure Zambians, both in urban and remote food deficit rural areas.
According to the Central Statistics Office, Zambia’s annual food inflation rate in June 2008 rose to 15.6 percent. This was in stark contrast to the situation one year earlier, when food inflation was running at 4.8 percent.
European Union Food Facility
In order to safeguard against future price shocks and ensure food security, the Zambian government is working to enhance the productivity and production of its agricultural sector.
One way of achieving this goal is by ensuring that the country’s smallholder farmers – who produce roughly 80 percent of the nation’s food requirement – engage in environmentally-sound and sustainable farming practices, such as conservation agriculture.
Conservation agriculture involves three main principles for hand-based and draught animal powered cropping systems. These include: minimal soil disturbance; keeping soil covered, as much as possible, with crop residues, other organic materials or a specially grown cover crop; and rotating crops, including legumes.
In June 2009, FAO launched a project to help the Zambian government boost small farmers’ food production through improved access to agricultural inputs and the promotion of conservation agriculture principles.
Funds from the European Union totalling € 7.5 million will be used to support Zambia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MACO) in implementing this two-year project.
Improved cropping practices will not only help to increase a farm’s productivity and profitability, but also help minimize exposure to soil erosion.
The MACO extension system, which will be strengthened through specialized trainings, will train 3 920 smallholder farmers in conservation agriculture during the project’s first year. Farmers will receive an input package to enable them to implement the training they received.
During the project’s second year, the original group of farmers will each train 15 farmers from their respective regions (about 58 800 people), who in turn will receive an input subsidy from the project enabling them to practice conservation agriculture on their own farms.
Other FAO Activities
In response to the food price crisis, a Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) project worth USD 500 000 was launched in 2008 to boost the agricultural productivity and production of small scale farmers by distributing maize seed, fertilizer and legumes.
Zambia was also part of a South-African sub-regional TCP worth USD 372 000 to monitor and coordinate issues and ensure effective distribution of high quality inputs to those most in need.