On Tuesday Deputy Finance Minister Patrick Kalifungwe told IRIN that the pilot project would start soon by offering 90,000 ha of farmland in Serenje, central Zambia, and 100,000 ha in Kaoma in the south to farmers interested in producing non-traditional export crops such as cotton, paprika and sugar.
"There is strong evidence that our economy is responding to our efforts to diversify the export base. Government has already allocated 10 billion Kwacha (about US $2 million) for infrastructure development in these two farming blocs. Commercial and small-scale farmers are welcome to invest in these areas provided they are able to show they can produce non-traditional export crops," Kalifungwe said.
Last year the Zambian economy suffered a blow from mining giant Anglo-American's decision to withdraw from the huge Konkola mine on the grounds that production was no longer profitable.
This prompted calls for a serious rethink of the country's over-reliance on copper production. In the wake of the collapse of the copper industry, the Minister of Finance Emmanuel Kasonde also called for land allocation reforms.
Kalifungwe added that the initiative would go toward preventing future food shortages by encouraging farmers to grow drought resistant crops in the two designated areas.
Floods and drought during the 2000/2001 season reduced Zambia's maize production to 490,000 mt from the previous year's 700,000 mt. Drought in the 2001/2002 season compounded the problem.
Aid agencies estimate that 2.9 million Zambians will need food aid up to the next harvest in March/April this year as a result of drought.
"The land will have to be divided into units starting with 1,000 hectares. Farmers especially small scale farmers will be encouraged to grow crops that are not heavily dependent on irrigation. This project will hopefully remedy this situation," Kalifungwe said.
Asked if Zimbabwe's commercial farmers had expressed an interest in the project, Kalifungwe said the government would not make "special provision" for farmers of particular countries.
"The aim is to use land effectively and creatively and provided farmers can prove they do this they are welcome," he added.
It is estimated that less than 10 percent of Zambia's arable land is being utilised. [ENDS]
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