By Kennedy Mupeseni –
ZAMBIA should use the bumper harvest to position itself for food security and economic recovery amidst the on-going Coronavirus disease.
During the 2020/21 farming season, Zambia produced a record 3.6 million tonnes of maize and more than 400,000 tonnes of soya beans, which could change the economic outlook of the country through enhanced exports if properly managed.
Furthermore, the future looks bright for the farmers as this year’s marketing season is so luring for them to even double their production considering that farming inputs have already been delivered.
On May 30 this year, the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) announced buying prices for designated agricultural commodities for the 2021 crop marketing season.
FRA is mandated to buy eight designated crop commodities which include white maize, orange maize, rice, sorghum, sunflower, groundnuts, soya beans and beans as strategic food reserves.
In the 2020/2021-marketing season, the Agency intends to buy three commodities from the eight designated commodities for their reserves, which include white maize at around 500,000 tonnes, soya bean 50,000 tonnes and paddy rice of 10,000 tonnes.
The price for white maize has increased from K110 in 2020 to K150 in 2021, soya bean from K150 in 2020 to K500 in 2021 and paddy rice from K70 in 2020 to K200 in 2021.
In the latest Policy Monitoring and Research Centre (PMRC) policy research analysis, executive director, Bernadette Zulu indicates that the prices announced by the Agency do not reflect the floor price for the 2021 marketing season but FRA value for buying commodities under the principle of “willing seller and willing buyer”.
“Under the principle, the Agency has provided an opportunity for small scale farmers who have contributed 93 per cent of the 2020/2021 crop production to actively get a fair share of the market by enabling them to determine the prices of their commodities,” Ms Zulu said.
The PMRC is satisfied that FRA has put in measures to manage the national strategic food reserves such as the provision of market access to smallholder farmers and managing the public agricultural storage facilities.
PMRC notes that as a way of ensuring a smooth marketing season the Agency will operate 1,200 depots in 105 districts and reposition marketing prerequisites such as empty grain bags and sieves as well as repairing platform scales.
Secondly, PMRC is elated by the decision of the Agency to carry out a scenario analysis in arriving at the 2021 commodity prices which considers farm gate and open market prices, factoring in the cost of inputs to reflective pricing as well as consultations with market shareholders and players in the crop marketing value chain.
To secure the strategic food reserves, PMRC urges the Agency to enter the market at the earliest possible time in order to meet their targets and to avoid unscrupulous buyers taking advantage of the small-scale farmers.
In addition, plans to buy the stated amounts of commodities will allow for more private sector participation in the sector such as millers and private grain traders thereby moving towards achieving the country’s aspirations of promoting private sector participation in the agricultural sector.
The economic adviser states that FRA should in the near future increase the amount of quantities to purchase for other commodities such as rice, soya bean and other legumes as a way of driving towards the country’s crop diversification agenda.
Private buyers are also providing the much needed competition in the crop marketing thereby boosting farmers’ negotiating powers.
So far millers have started buying maize , targeting to buy 1.8 million tonnes as it looks at exporting finished products such as mealie-meal following a hint by the Government to open borders for finished maize products.
Millers Association of Zambia (MAZ) president Andrew Chintala said maize moisture content has dropped to the recommended milling levels, hence millers are ready for the marketing season.
Individual millers are now on the market to buy maize for both human and animal consumption.
Mr Chintala says millers are buying maize at the market price offered in different parts of the country where maize is available.
“We are now on the market buying maize; the moisture content is now between 12.5 and 13. Millers are going round the country to fetch maize,” he says.
MAZ is optimistic of meeting the target of 1.8 million tonnes this marketing season.
He says the millers are still exporting maize and bran to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) the country signed with the Government.
Mr Chintala says under the maize MoU, Zambia is supposed to export 600,000 tonnes of mealie-meal to DRC.
He says with the bumper harvest recorded this year, the exports of maize products to DRC should continue to secure the market.
Mr Chintala says Zambia is slowly losing the DRC maize market because of restricted exports of the commodity which led DRC to source the commodity from other maize producing countries in the region.
He calls for the need for farmers to continue increasing hectares of maize cultivation to meet the growing demand of the commodity on both the local and regional market.
As for the Economic Association of Zambia (EAZ), the Government should encourage export of maize and soya products to gain the much needed foreign currency.
EAZ Copperbelt chapter chairperson, Mathews Muyembe says the Government should open borders for export of finished agriculture products mealie-meal to earn foreign exchange.
“It is good that the country has recorded a bumper crop, after being satisfied that we have enough food security to cater for the future, we need to take advantage of the regional market,” Mr Muyembe says.
Millers should be encouraged to export mealie meal and not white maize for the country to gain more.
Mr Muyembe says ideally, the country should have been drawing its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contribution from agricultural activities.
“It is time the country invested more in agriculture processing for us to break even from the country’s economic challenges,” he says.
Mr Muyembe says agricultural products could help in boosting the country’s Non-Traditional Exports (NTEs) if scaled up.
The advent of COVID-19 has been shrinking many economies across the globe with the tourism industry being the most hit sector; therefore increasing agricultural production will act as a catalyst for growth as the country implements the economic recovery plan.
Mr Muyembe observes that the increase in crop buying price by the FRA will act as incentive for farmers to grow more.
Indeed, farmers have been experiencing high cost of inputs leading to the huge cost of production; hence the change in purchasing price would boost farmers’ morale.