Zambia to award foreigners farm land in 2009

LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambia will award farm land to foreign investors in 2009 to improve agricultural production and curb food shortages, the country's finance minister said on Thursday.



Situmbeko Musokotwane said the mineral-rich country would grant foreign
and local investors land in farm blocs for them to grow more white
maize for export to countries in southern Africa.

Speaking at a meeting convened to familiarize with farmers’ operations,
Musokotwane said agriculture provided the best alternative to
diversifying the economy away from copper mining, the country’s
economic lifeblood.

"We will open up more land to investors in the coming year and more
details will be issued at a later stage. There is plenty of room for
everybody, we think we should do something in agriculture," he said.

Zambia created two major farm blocs last year, each over 100,000 hectares in size.

The blocs would be split up for foreign and local farmers to grow cash
crops, but the roll-out of the project has been hindered by delays in
putting up infrastructure on the sites.

Agriculture industry officials said last week the country would import
up to 100,000 tonnes of maize to plug a deficit expected in the first
quarter of 2009, after the government lifted a ban on imports of maize.

"In the past few years, Zambia achieved considerable success in food
security, but now we want to go beyond food security to exporting,"
Musokotwane said.

MAIZE IMPORTS

The newly appointed finance minister’s announcement came as a local
farmers’ group warned that Zambia would have to import more maize in
2009 if both commercial and peasant farmers did not receive adequate
subsidies to grow enough of the staple white maize.

Zambia National Farmers Union (Znfu) president Jervis Zimba said local
farmers were facing difficulties in raising maize output due to soaring
costs of fertilizer and seed.

"We are seeing a situation where we will have more imports and the
solution is not to subsidize (maize) imports, but production," he said.

Zimba said the government, which is providing subsidized seed and
fertilizers to 200,000 small scale farmers this season up from 125,000
farmers in the 2007/08 season, should extend the programme to
commercial farmers as well.

"The major farmers’ concerns are (linked to) the current (global)
economic instability. Prices of agricultural inputs are going up while
our banks are not lending out to farmers and the season has just
started," Zimba said.

"The best (way) is to ensure complete subsidies for commercial and
small scale farmers. We need to look at how the government can help
farmers because currently the fields are empty, very few farmers are
going to grow maize," Zimba said.

Zambia’s 2007/08 maize output was reduced to 1.2 million tonnes from
1.3 million the previous season due to floods in some areas.

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