Farmers listening to the presentation

The Minister of Fisheries and Livestock Prof Nkandu Luo has hailed the collaboration of the University of Zambia (UNZA), School of Agriculture Sciences, and the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock in finding the best-fit forage seed types for the farming communities in drought-prone areas.

In a speech read on  her behalf by the Livestock Development Deputy Director Mr Young Vebetti, Prof Luo noted that in Zambia domestic animals such as cattle, goats and sheep depended on grazing for most of their feed requirement. She said while the rainy season offered abundant forages for the livestock feeding, there was a seasonal decline in both quantity and quality of forages during the long dry periods of the year, which led to chronic nutritional stress on grazing livestock that in turn led to reduced productivity during the stressful months and reduced income from the sale of the livestock among the farmers.

“In addition to the inadequate supply of and poor access by the majority of smallholder farmers to quality forage seed, most farmers have limited information and skills in the production of forage and pasture seed as well as the economical utilization of these products,” she said.

Prof Luo added that to address these challenges, the Government, through the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock with the support from projects such as the jointly funded IFAD, OFID and the Government Enhanced Smallholder Livestock Investment Programme (E-SLIP) have embarked on pasture and forage development programmes at community and household levels. “These are aimed at building the capacity of the farmers to sustainably produce adequate quantities and quality forages for use as fodder and participate in fodder seed production and marketing to ensure the sustainable supply of the seed,” she said.

She said the collaboration of E-SLIP and the University of Zambia (UNZA) through the promotion of Climate Smart Market Oriented Forage and Forage seed production, conservation and utilization has great potential to increase smallholder farmers income through increased quality of their livestock which would fetch better prices and therefore more money if sold as well as increased crop production resulting from soil improvement through effective use of leguminous fodder crops and planned crop rotations. “Looking at these potential benefits to the farmers the objective of this field day is, therefore, to simply demonstrate that if farmers are equipped with the necessary irrigation equipment and they have access to quality seed, it is possible for them to produce pasture and fodder crops and produce seed both on and off-season,” she said.

And Chirundu District Commissioner Mr Sydney Kayame observed that Chirundu and Chiawa areas were drought-prone hence affecting crop production and availability of pasture for livestock. He said the main challenge for livestock in the two areas was poor or insufficient forage for animals, therefore, the idea by the government through cooperating partners such as UNZA to introduce locally grown legumes such as cowpeas was a welcome move that will help to address the nutrition for animals. “I would like to urge the farmers to take advantage of this gathering to learn more from the experts so that you can benefit from this important government initiative.

“May I also thank the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock and UNZA for coming up with this programme because it will help to improve the food security for both the farmers and their livestock,” he said.

Meanwhile, UNZA Dean of the School of Agricultural Sciences Dr Benson Chishala in a speech read on his behalf by Dr Davis Lungu Senior Lecturer in the Department of Plant Science reaffirmed UNZA’s resolve to participate in solving the problem of climate change through developing crop varieties which would be able to stand the changes of the climate. Dr Chishala said in developing the drought-resistant crop varieties UNZA was working with external partners such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and Kirk Foundation as well as local partners such as Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI) of the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research (NISIR). Collaboration with external partners has facilitated UNZA to now integrate the use of nuclear and biotechnological tools in crop improvement, crop, soil and  water management improvement  research. This is a milestone achievement that will make the plant breeding programme more efficient and effective in developing new varieties. To support this integration process, UNZA together with its research external partners have established tissue culture and plant biotechnology laboratories which are used for teaching and research.

He explained that in the process of crop improvement, the university was using both the conventional and induced mutation crop breeding a approaches. “These varieties you have been looking at during the Field Day were developed through a process called Induced Mutation approach. The Induced Mutation approach involves subjecting the seed to radiation to create a variation from which the best performing materials are selected,” he said.

Dr Chishala said the varieties which the university has developed had good characteristics apart from being high yielding they were also resistant to aphids and storage pests. He further added that the field day jointly undertaken by the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock and UNZA was meant to show farmers that there were good materials that can grown in the drought-prone environment. He urged farmers to take advantage of the cowpeas varieties because the market was readily available both locally and internationally.

Dr Chishala reiterated that the researchers at UNZA were not sitting idle but they were trying everything possible to provide solutions to the problems of climate change as well as addressing the needs for the farmers. “As a university, we are not only working with cowpeas variety, we are also looking at wheat and finger millet as part of our research on drought-resistant crops. We also have an active programme on breeding disease resistance in beans such as Kabulangeti (Local name) and this plant breeding is on-going,” he said.

And Ms Ery Nguni one of the farmers who attended the field day thanked the University of Zambia for coming up with the idea of educating farmers how to grow cowpeas not only for human consumption but also as forage for livestock. Ms Nguni said the field day was an opportunity for the farmers to learn more about the processes of growing the selected cowpeas as well as an opportunity for them to give feedback to the researchers so that they can develop the right seed for the farmers.

“This community outreach has benefited us, farmers, a lot I just want to appeal to the organisers to make this event to be an annual event so that the interaction with the farmers can continue. Otherwise, we are grateful to the government and the University of Zambia for this programme because it will help us to benefit both humans and our livestock,” she said.

The University of Zambia has so far produced two types of drought-resistance cowpeas varieties namely Lukuzuzi and Lukwankwa which have since been released on the market.