Finance Minister, Felix Mutati yesterday presented the long awaited austerity budget for 2017. The newly appointed minister paid glowing tribute his predecessor, Alexander Bwalya Chikwanda (ABC). He stated that “I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Honourable Alexander B. Chikwanda, for his stewardship in managing the economic affairs of the country during an economically difficult global and domestic environment. Honourable Chikwanda is a man of immeasurable dedication to the development of this country. We honour him as one of Zambia’s most accomplished public servants and as a respected private citizen. We wish him well”.

Presenting the Agro policies for 2017, Mutati stated that to further diversify the agriculture sector, his government has launched the Cashew Nut Infrastructure Support Programme, valued at US$55.4 million. The project will target 600,000 beneficiaries in Western Province. These will include 300,000 women and 100,000 youths and the rest to about 200,000 men. The US$55.4 million is composed of US$45 million loan from AfDB to the Zambian government, US$8.31million direct cash injection and US$2.11 from the direct beneficiaries of the project through specific labour for cashew tree planting.

According to the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) who are providing the loan to the Zambian government,the Cashew Infrastructure Development Project (CIDP) aims at reviving the cashew subsector and is one of the Government of Zambia’s (GoZ) priority projects. The development goal is to contribute to country’s economic growth and food security. The CIDP objective is to contribute to poverty reduction, improved household incomes through improved cashew production and processing. The Project will be implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL), over a period of 5 years, in Mongu, Limulunga, Senanga, Kalabo, Nalolo, Sikongo, Shangombo, Sioma, Lukulu, and Mitete Districts of the Western Province.

The AfDB stated that Project will benefit 60,000 smallholder farmers including 30,000 (50%) women and 7,000 youths, each planting 1 ha (100 cashew trees). The Project will create about 6,000 full time jobs (3,000 women, and 1,000 youths) along cashew value chain from production, processing to marketing. At full maturity of the cashew trees, each farming household (with 1 ha) will have annual income of [ZMW 4,290] USD 429. To promote inclusive and green growth, CIDP will implement its activities, in a sustainable manner, and facilitate equitable allocation of resources to participating rural men, women and youths. Cashew trees will contribute to green growth with positive effects on environment.

A review of the 2016 and 2017 provincial population estimates by the state statistics bureau, CSO, shows that western province now has a total population of about 1 million people, the 600k coverage is 60% of the population. If you further look at these numbers at household level, the AfDB estimated 60,000 households, in a region with about 200,000 (2010 census estimated an average of 5.2 people per household in Zambia), this gives an estimated 30% coverage at household level. This is a major boost to the region and may just turn around the region economically when successfully implemented. It’s also a lions share if you look at the Agro investment amounts distribution to other similar Agro dependent regions of Zambia.