By Fred M’membe President of the Socialist Party
It is very clear that Mr Hakainde Hichilema and his UPND government have failed to deliver Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) fertiliser before the on-set of the rains. This is after all the promises to our poor people that fertilisers were on the way.
On September 7 this year, agriculture minister Mtolo Phiri assured the nation that fertiliser distribution would start at the beginning of October, but by the end of October distribution had still not started in earnest.
Addressing a campaign rally for the November 4 Mkushi council chairperson by-election, Mr Hichilema announced that fertiliser was on the way. He emphasised that reports being circulated that there was no fertiliser in Mkushi were untrue because, “trucks of fertiliser are already on the way, and you will receive the fertiliser”, and he threatened to dismiss camp officers trying to mislead the farmers about fertiliser not being available or being delayed.
Despite growing cries from our poor people about delays in fertiliser distribution, we didn’t want to rush and start commenting on this issue or harangue Mr Hichilema and his UPND government. This is not an issue for lurid, sensational attacks on Mr Hichilema and his UPND government. It’s too serious an issue to play political njuka, insolo with. Socialists are patriots and we wish to see our country succeed and our people live better – with or without us. You will never see us gloat over national reserves, as Mr Hichilema and the UPND did when others were in government and they were in opposition. We wish to see the lives of our people improve, the economy grow and gain in strength. We do not look to defeat Mr Hichilema and the UPND in 2026 on the back of national failure, and agriculture collapse. There will be sufficient grounds without that to argue for their removal.
Today, Mr Hichilema and UPND may look very strong and confident, but very big problems lie ahead. Despite the excessive show of confidence, Mr Hichilema and his league don’t seem to know where they are headed and that is very dangerous. He appears to be in control, but no one knows where he is heading. He has not only failed to deliver fertiliser to our poor farmers but also medicines to our clinics and hospitals for our sick citizens. Our agriculture and health services are in shambles.
Clearly, Mr Hichilema has failed to define the purpose of his government. He will in be judged in the end, not on what he says, but on what he does.
They are too focused on becoming very rich, being the richest Zambians to really get a good appreciation of the fertiliser business in Zambia and get an in-depth understanding of the outlook with regard to fertiliser supply, given the current global geopolitical tensions, COVID-19 pandemic, and the domestic macro-economic environment and challenges that the business is facing.
If the factors that led to this failure to supply our poor people with fertilisers at the right time and in the needed quantities are not understood and resolved we will not see a reversal of fortunes in agriculture.
There are serious problems of lack of transparency and predictability in the whole fertiliser supply business. There was a very serious lack of information by the Ministry of Agriculture on tenders for the 2022/23 farming season, and this has, to a very large extent, led to the delay and the many serious hurdles in securing fertilisers, especially in the current environment where the suppliers are facing price volatility at source in the global market. At a minimum, suppliers need four months to secure and deliver fertiliser into the country. This government, without explanation, cancelled the open tenders at the end of August and “secretly” awarded tenders thereafter. Importers can only secure stocks of fertilisers after government determines its requirements and the financing arrangements governing the programme.
And offtake of fertiliser on the open market will be low this season given the prices – K1,200 for a 50 kg bag instead of the K250 per 50 kg bag they had promised our people – currently facing the users, and as such this speaks to lower procurement forecasts for the open market as well. The consequences of this don’t require much disquisition.
If decisions were made in good time and tenders were awarded accordingly, the procurement of Urea may not have been as problematic as that of securing D-Compound. This required the government to award FISP tenders no later than June.
There’s too much empty talk by Mr Hichilema and his league for one to really know where they stand and what they are up to. There have been endless and sometimes contradictory statements on FISP by government officials, who introduced some uncertainty in the fertiliser business, and this has not helped to instil confidence in the business community. For instance, there was no certainty on whether government was going to engage in business with existing fertiliser companies or not. The intentions of this government weren’t officially communicated to the suppliers. As a result of this, today we have fertiliser suppliers who haven’t been awarded tenders with stocks in their warehouses. What should they do with these stocks? Take them to DRC?
There’s a need for transparency and fairness. FISP financing arrangements and decisions by government should be availed to would-be suppliers so that all can plan, and suppliers can bring in the fertiliser in good time. Suppliers should be informed in advance whether the bids are open or closed tender, as the two have implications for the entire procurement process and the time it will take. More so for parastatal suppliers like NCZ, which will need to abide by the ZPPA processes and which take more time.
There’s also a need to broaden the fertiliser options beyond the use of Urea as a top dresser and D-Compound as the basal dresser. These are not the only good options available. There are other fertilisers that can be used as efficiently and effectively as these, or even better.
Again, to move forward and overcome the current inefficiencies, self-interest on the part of those leading government must disappear. They are not there to benefit themselves and their associates.
Agriculture is the major source of livelihood for the great majority of our people – 54.8% of our workforce is deployed in agriculture. It cannot be run in such a cavalier way, premised on personal basis and patronage.
Mr Hichilema and his league are creating the premise for food insecurity next year. More prudence and efficiency was expected from this government.