| By Nancy Mukelabai |

Lying on the banks of the Zambezi river, north of Lukulu is Mitete district, it was once a part of Lukulu before being declared a district in 2012 by then Republican President Michael Chilufya Sata.

Mitete district has an area of approximately 6,384km2. It is at an elevation of 1,051 meters above sea level and is dominated by tree vegetation. Over the years, the people in this district have mainly engaged in growing maize, millet and cassava with fishing as the main economic activity.

Even when it was still a part of Lukulu district, it had not been left out in developmental issues in various government programnes through different ministries. However, declaring it a district brought government services much closer to the people than ever before.

With government’s emphasis of prioritising the agriculture sector, a programme aimed reviving cashew production was launched, the Cashew Infrastructure Development Project (CIDP). The project was launched in 2016 in Western province, with support from the African Development Bank.

The project was expected to assist revamping of cashew growing in 10 districts which included Mitete. The criteria used to resuscitate cashew production in the province was because of its terrain and being with less frost problems, high incidences of poverty, food insecurity and high malnutrition levels and vulnerability to environmental degradation.

The Ministry of Agriculture staff came up with a target of 4,000 cashew beneficiaries after conducting a feasibility study.

The district has a total number of 16 agricultural camps with only 10 manned camps. The Department of Agriculture, however, managed to cover all the camps in the implementation of agricultural programmes by allocating more than one camp to each camp extension officer.

The District Agriculture Officers began with sensitization meetings of camp extension officers and farmers on government’s main objective of promoting the cashew sub-sector in the province and on the value of the cashew crop itself. These sensitization meetings also involved the local Indunas and headmen as they are the main custodians of land. For the local farmers having been growing maize and cassava as their main crops, very few ever thought of taking up cashew growing.

It is also a well known fact that the 2017/2018 farming season was characterized by drought in most parts of the country, of which Western province is not an exception, the cashew farmers in Mitete district were equally not spared.

According to Mitete District Senior Agricultural Officer Sydney Tembo, the district did not fare well in the stated period.

“Out of 1,300 seedlings that were distributed to the farmers, only 421 germinated and grew, this is due to the drought that we experienced as a district. Therefore, as a district, the 2019/2020 cashew farming season is just like starting all over again as we are yet to meet our target,” disclosed Mr Banda.

He highlighted some of the challenges the district encountered in the first cashew growing season were lack of transport, inadequate camp extension officers and also the late distribution of the cashew seed.

However, the mentioned challenges were addressed and that has yielded positive results in terms of implementation of the programme. In terms of late distribution of seeds, the department established community nurseries which the farmers had to manage up to the time of sharing when ready to plant. And these community nurseries in the camps were being situated in areas within reach for easy accessibility by the farmers.

This necessitated the establishment of a total of 31 community nurseries in 16 agricultural camps in Mitete district. This was meant to easy the timely distribution of cashew seedlings to the farmers. All this work was spearheaded by the Department of Agriculture.

Mr Chinyama Malasha of Samalasha village in Muyondoti agricultural camp is one of the 2017/2018 cashew seedlings beneficiaries. He planted 100 seedlings of which 98 seedlings survived despite the drought experienced. Mr Malasha is one of the cashew farmers who have fully embraced the growing of cashew in the district and has again benefitted 100 more seedlings in the 2019/2020 farming season.

“The moment I attended a cashew sensitization meeting which was conducted by our camp extension officer Mary Banda, I registered myself as a cashew farmer. No wonder I took good care of the first seedlings that I benefitted from the department of agriculture. This season, I’ll plant 100 seedlings again plus two more to replace the two that dried up during the last planting season,” said Mr Malasha.

Mr Malasha explained that he has shared the knowledge acquired on the importance of cashew. He is also involving all his children in the growing and managing of his cashew field. He further said that he wants his children to continue growing cashew as it will improve their income at household level for a very long time once they start harvesting.

In terms of mobility, the district has also been provided with six motor bikes for the camp extension officers and a land cruiser at the district office for easy implementation of the project. The provision of transport will speed up the distribution of seedlings and monitoring activities. The Cashew Infrastructure Development Project in the district has been working with the Export and Trade Group (ETG) in implementing cashew programmes such as delivering of materials for establishment of cashew nurseries, provision of cashew sprayers and pesticides and also managing of cashew community nurseries through engaging nursery operators in all sites. All the measures that have been put in place in the 2019/2020 cashew growing season have resulted in the timely distribution of the seedlings to the farmers.

Although, it is well known that Zambia is predominantly dependent on rain fed crops, most crops grown are affected by the rain fall pattern. Cashew farmers in the district have been encouraged to plant their ready cashew seedlings between December and January, while the district is receiving normal rainfall which will allow their seedlings to hold and grow in the field without having to water them.

The promotion of cashew growing in Mitete district is a game changer not only in the country’s agricultural sector, but also to Western province in particular. Other stakeholders have equally continued supplementing government efforts through various projects that will ensure that the rural communities improve their lives and income generation at household level for a better and healthy nation.-NAIS