By Henry Kyambalesa
Apparently, the prescription of ceiling prices for maize and mealie-meal by the Zambian government is prompted by several factors. Firstly, it is designed to effect a more egalitarian distribution of the affected commodities than what would ordinarily obtain if prices were allowed to rise in response to the market forces of supply and demand.
Secondly, the majority of citizens would not be able to afford to maintain a decent level of subsistence in the absence of price ceilings, given the high levels of poverty in the country, and the fact that maize and mealie-meal are currently Zambia’s staple and principal foodstuff.
And, thirdly, the high levels of undernourishment, child mortality and child wasting and stunting obtaining in the country are not likely to be addressed in the absence of price controls on maize and mealie-meal.
Unfortunately, price ceilings on maize and mealie-meal are the major cause of the smuggling of the two commodities to countries where prices are higher than prescribed prices obtaining in the domestic market, and/or where there are inadequate supplies of the two commodities.
So, what is the long-term solution to the smuggling of maize and mealie-meal?
Simply, there is a need for the government to provide adequate support and incentives to agribusinesses and to both small and large-scale farmers. In this regard, the government needs to promptly take the following measures and initiatives, among other things:
1) Address the following factors identified by the COMESA Secretary General in 2000 as having contributed to the low levels of agricultural production in the country: non-availability of financial capital, and the high cost of agricultural credit; inadequate transport and storage infrastructure, and the high cost of transport; the under-provision and high cost of agricultural inputs; an inefficient agricultural marketing system; inadequate skills in agricultural production and marketing; inconsistent and unrealistic agricultural policies; and inadequate investment in agricultural development by the government.
2) Revive and revitalize the Zambia National Service (ZNS) production camps, which should accept enrollment by unemployed Zambian citizens on a voluntary basis, as well as promote and bolster agricultural production in the camps through greater financial support and generous conditions of service for ZNS personnel.
3) Utilize the vacated refugee camps dotted across the country for agriculture-related training, crop production, and other vocations to be facilitated by a cadre of skilled and professional trainers.
4) Require all provinces to create revenue-generating Provincial Agricultural Estates, and to use a portion of the output of the schemes to maintain their own local food reserves, and also require all district councils, educational and training institutions, police camps, military barracks, garrisons, and prisons to initiate and maintain agricultural production units.
5) Encourage resettlement schemes to produce more food by providing for irrigation dams and canals at all such schemes to facilitate all-season crop production, as well as provide for attractive agricultural incentives to boost both small-scale and large-scale agriculture-related activities. In this regard, there is a need for government officials to continually acknowledge the assistance rendered by donor countries in bolstering the viability of the National Irrigation Plan (NIP).
6) Continually provide information to farmers aimed at promoting efficiency in processing, sourcing and sharing of seeds, organic manures, and other kinds of agricultural inputs.
7) Spearhead the creation of a “Farmers’ Holding Company” by farmers (through a low-interest loan, if needed), to supply low-cost inputs nationwide at zero value-added tax—including seeds, seedlings, fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, stock feeds, and grain bags. The cooperating farmers would need to assume ownership of the company as founding shareholders, and the company should preferably be registered and operated as a corporate entity.
8) Periodically maintain and rehabilitate existing feeder roads nationwide, create feeder roads in areas which do not currently have such roads, improve training conducted in agricultural research centers, and provide for low-interest loans for erecting secure storage facilities.
9) Provide attractive tax incentives to agribusinesses, and to processors and canners of agricultural produce.
10) Create—in collaboration with the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU), the Millers Association of Zambia (MAZ), the Zambia Cooperative Federation (ZCF), and other relevant stakeholders—a marketing system for all kinds of agricultural produce designed to provide for the following: direct sourcing of such produce from farmers by millers, retailers and other industrial buyers; and procurement of unsold produce by the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) at wholesale prices for preservation and/or distribution to government institutions like boarding schools, colleges and hospitals.
11) Ensure that the various kinds of imports that are currently exempted from customs duty continue to enjoy the duty-free status—including fertilizer, irrigation equipment, irrigation pumps, tractors, machinery for soil preparation and cultivation, harvesting and threshing machinery, poultry machinery and equipment, fungicides, and herbicides. And
12) Support all kinds of agricultural pursuits and endeavors nationwide—including poultry, dairy farming, cattle ranching, fish-farming, horticulture, and crop husbandry—in order to boost the supply of agricultural produce, as well as expand the variety of foodstuff and lessen our over-reliance on maize and mealie-meal on our main menus.
These kinds of measures and initiatives can make it possible for us to attain greater levels of agricultural output, the greater supply of which can result in several outcomes. Firstly, it can culminate in lower prices of food, and in enhanced food security. Secondly, it can boost our beloved country’s food reserves.
And, thirdly, it can enable us to export excess foodstuff and, in the process, end the rampant smuggling of maize and mealie-meal to neighboring countries and beyond.
The author is a Zambian academic currently living in the City and County of Denver in the State of Colorado, USA.