MDGs attainable with timely and reliable statistics


As Zambia moves towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS),more needs to be done to accelerate the pace at which this can be achieved.

Following last months UN summit in New York to discuss progress towards reaching the MDGs the debate is raging as to whether Zambia will achieve the eight stipulated goals before the deadline, now just five years away. The focus must shift to practical policy improvements in key sectors of the country recognizing the development frameworks that have been put in place to help reduce poverty and create sustainable development.

President Rupiah Banda says the country has devised economic and social plans that are deliberately meant to help achieve the MDGS such as the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) and the Fifth National Development Plan.

Banda cites efforts being made in implementing pro-poor interventions which included increasing farmer input support from 200,000 beneficiaries to over 800,000 farmers in form of fertilizer and seed through the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP).This led to an improvement in the  last farming season with the recording a bumper harvest of 2.8 million tonnes of the staple food maize.

However, it is vital that problems in the agriculture sector are addressed and government should focus on improving some aspects in agriculture such as inadequate information on production, pricing of commodities, trade statistics and consumption trends and figures.

Currently, poor small scale farmers cannot even access information on issues such as the fertility of the land they are occupying, soil types,prevailing favorable prices  for their commodities . So improving a platform or having an integrated system  for  the provision of reliable information to the farmers is crucial to improving their yieldsand incomes and in a way that benefits them.

The other hitch is that the fertilizer and seed provided by government is decided by the provincial and district leadership in the Ministry of Agriculture who have little or no information to help them make sound policy decisions.But the FISP has faced so many challenges which CountrySTAT, a new UN web resource aims to address.

CountrySTAT gives decision makers access to statistics such as production, prices, trade and consumption which supports analyses, informed policy- making and monitoring, with the goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.

Through national and regional CountrySTAT projects, FAO forms partnerships with statistical offices and the ministries of agriculture, fisheries and forestry, among others, to introduce the system and build national capacity to use it.

Under the government's fertilizer support a 'one-size-fit-all' approach to fertilizer and seed regardless of differences in agro-ecological zones and soil types has been responsible for poor yields per hectare experienced each year. All farmers are made to plant the same variety or range of seeds (short maturing or medium maturing or long maturing) using same type of fertilizers (D-compound and Urea) despite agriculturists knowing that differences in soil fertility require adjustments in input applications. 

This has resulted in significant drop in yield against yield potentials to as low as 10 bags per hectare against the potential 50-70 bags.

Another example is that government officers have been facing challenges in estimating the number of smallholder farms, seed type according to geographical location and agronomic practices used. Michael Muleba, an agriculture expert says, government should first identify the specific market failures,which is underpinned on issues such as imperfect information. Davy Simumb a , p r i n c i p a l agriculture research officer at the

Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI) says the project will greatly assist his organization to properly document information on plant import permits issued on a monthly basis, plant varieties and seed certification.

The MDGs especially  on sustainable development are too ambitious to ever be achievable, but they have created an unprecedented worldwide impetus to improve the cardinal sectors of the economy especially the agriculture sector. For Zambia meeting the goals even partly will have enormous benefits.