I want to demonstrate how our crop marketing arrangements, especially for maize, are misguided and offer solutions to improve the situation for farmers and consumers.
To date there is no indication whether our government will set the maize floor price and whether they will buy maize and other crops at all from farmers. We are being told that the business community such as millers should move in rural areas and buy the maize crop from farmers. Now here is the problem. We are being told there was a bumper harvest last farming season and so government bought more maize than they wanted.
We all remember that a few months ago, Agriculture Minister Given Lubinda announced measures that were meant to cushion the mealie meal prices though to date the price of mealie meal is still high. One such measures was a reduction in the price of maize being bought from the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) so that millers can buy at lower prices and pass on the benefits to the Zambian consumers. We believe this policy is still in place and millers can still cheaply access maize from FRA depots across the country. Now the question is why would a businessperson such as millers waste their time and resources going into the villages to buy maize from farmers when they can access the commodity cheaply from FRA depots in urban centres? It does not make any sense for one to do so especially now with an increase in fuel prices. As a result, our farmers will be stuck with their maize or forced to sell cheaply to briefcase businesspeople.
We are currently being told the country is exporting huge quantities of maize to neighbouring countries in order to clear stocks for last season. Exporting of such produce as maize grain is the problem we have been talking about because we don’t do any value addition.
Our alternative policy, if indeed we have too much maize, would have been to encourage exporting of finished maize products such as mealie meal and feedstock etc. We need to encourage milling companies to grind more maize grain for export earnings. From maize milling, which is value addition, there are also lots of other by-products such as feedstock for our animals.
In short when we export maize grain, we also export a lot of other products which in turn finds it’s way back into Zambian market as imports of our own products and in the process contribute to the Kwacha’s fall.
In a well thought out arrangement, where millers are encouraged to export maize mill at large scale, they would be forced to buy more maize either from FRA itself or from farmers in order to satisfy their export markets and generate foreign exchange for our country which would later cushion and stabilise the now free falling Kwacha.
Millers would easily exhaust the current maize stock from FRA, and would be forced to set up depots or appoint agents in rural areas who would be buying maize for them at competitive prices attractive to our farmers. In the whole chain, small scale businesses and employment opportunities will be created for our people, especially for the youths.
Does it really make any sense for us to label our citizens and even those of neighbouring countries as maize and mealie meal smugglers when all we can do is to just encourage our small and large businesses to set up well organised selling points right inside say the Kasumbalesa border in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)? Once that is done, the so called smugglers would think twice to risk their lives carrying one or two bags of mealie meal when the product is readily available right at their door steps in an organised way that we can also earn foreign exchange from reasonable taxes instead of chasing widows, orphans and poor Zambians over rental monies.
Once we mill our maize locally, we are also assured of lots of by-products such as feedstock which our small businesses keeping chickens, pigs, goats, cattle, etc can cheaply access the feed and bring the prices of these meat products low for our home consumption while keeping our foreign exchange earnings in our banks and stabilise the Kwacha.
And it’s from these foreign exchange earnings that we can easily grow our economy and create more business and job opportunities for our people, especially the youths. And it’s from these jobs that again government can earn taxes from Pay As You Earn that can be channelled into social sectors such as health and education.
All these things are heavily interconnected, for example the farmer will get a better deal because of the appetite for the maize created by the millers who also have appetite for the dollars through exporting mealie meal. And there are also manufacturers and suppliers of packing bags in this equation who would want to expand their businesses due to the huge demand for empty bags from millers. And remember this is just from one item the maize chain industry.
For the local mealie meal consumption, we should seriously consider relaxing conditions for buying bags of maize from FRA depots so that small scale millers and individuals can easily buy even one bag and take it to the local hammer mills. There are currently lots of hammer mills (vigayo) even in urban centres where our people can be taking or accessing bags of maize grain for home consumption. In fact, my interactions in markets these days shows that majority of our people are currently enjoying Nshima made from hammer mills.
Issued by: UPND National Campaign Centre, Lusaka