The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says water availability and power supply are a major hindrance to Zambia’s irrigation potential.
The international body also cited land tenure, lack of knowledge by farmers and access to finance among other challenges to crop irrigation.
According to FAO, only 14% of Zambia’s arable land is being cultivated, and less than 30% of the land suitable for irrigation is developed.
“Despite having water reserves and abundant arable land, irrigation remains a challenge,” says George Okech, FAO country representative.
Okech appeared before the parliamentary committee on the status of Zambia’s irrigation programme.
Agricultural production is dominated by more than 600 000 small-scale farmers who produce over 90% of the nation’s maize, as well as crops such as cassava, cotton, millet and sorghum. Generally, the production is rain-fed, making crops highly vulnerable to erratic rainfall patterns.
Okech says Zambia’s irrigation sector provided investment opportunities both directly, in commercial agricultural production, and indirectly, through supply chains to off-takers and processors.
He notes that sugar, maize, and vegetable supply chains in Zambia are closely linked, creating significant potential to increase irrigation by expanding large-scale commercial estates and developing more productive agriculture on emerging farms.
“The potential is supported by Zambia’s substantial land and water availability, coupled by infrastructure development, particularly in the power sector, which will enable farms on underdeveloped rain-fed land to use electric pumps to access water for irrigation,” Okech says.