Zambia expects to produce more than 2.8 million tonnes of maize in the current 2010/2011 season, a slight increase from the 2.7 million tonnes reaped last year, the minister of agriculture said on Thursday.

Eustarckio Kazonga told Reuters in an interview although a government crop forecast would only be done next month, initial indications were output would exceed that of the previous season.

If the rainfall pattern continues to be favourable maize production should rise above 2.8 million tonnes, Kazonga said.

Kazonga said Zambia's maize yields which rose about 34 percent to 2.25 tonnes per hectare in the 2009/10 season, were expected to increase further this season.

We expect the productivity per unit area to increase because we have intensified farmer extension services, he said.

The government has also increased the number of farmers it provided with subsidised seed and fertiliser to more than 890,000 from 534,000 last year, Kazonga said.

The increase in the number of beneficiaries means that more small-scale farmers are now using certified seed which should also improve the yields, Kazonga said.

Kazonga said the government was also encouraging private investors to build fertiliser plants in order to bring down production costs and make Zambian maize regionally competitive.

Already we have one Russian company which plans to put up a fertiliser manufacturing plant in Zambia, Kazonga said.

Zambia plans to export 500,000 tonnes of maize in 2011 to countries in the Southern African Development Community, the state-run Food Reserve Agency (FRA) said on Wednesday.

The government allowed farmers and traders to export a maize surplus of 1.1 million tonnes, mainly to other countries in southern Africa, after Zambia produced 2.7 million tonnes.