SOMEWHERE in May 2014, I stated that in an economy where market forces are sensitive and swiftly responsive to any major economic statement and positive occurrence, the prices of mealie-meal could have that week started coming down.
I noted and still do, that the same way factors like increases in the prices of petroleum products almost immediately trigger changes in the prices of any other commodity in the economy, the announcement of the record-high maize production should trigger cuts in prices of mealie-meal and other maize products.
The authorities had just announced the projected 3.3-million tonnes maize production for that season.
That bumper harvest would, in some economies, have led to various economic gains as almost all the sector would have responded to the positive report.
Similarly, this year’s projected 2.7-million tonnes maize output which has been boosted by the carryover stock of 1.5 million tonnes of maize bring the total maize stock to 4.2million tonnes for the 2022/2023 agricultural marketing season, should trigger positive trends in terms of prices for maize products like mealie-meal.
However, while the local players are quick to respond to any changes which entail increment in the prices of their products, they are reluctant to effect any entailing reduction in the prices of their commodities.
Maize being a staple crop, its huge harvest should spur the improvement in many economic indicators like inflation, foreign exchange rate and generally the growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
This is, however, mostly dependent on the conduct of the players – starting with the millers and then the mealie-meal traders – in the local economy towards the record-high maize production.
We have had instances where the Government through the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) has offloaded its highly subsidised maize on the market to dampen down the prices of the mealie meal but the prices have remained static.
One should, therefore, not be faulted for thinking that apart from guaranteeing national food security in terms of mealie meal and other maize products on the market, the bumper harvest does not help much due to the greed of some players in the sector.
According to the forecast, maize production is expected to reduce to 2.7million tones from 3.6 million tonnes recorded in the 2020/2021 season.
The decrease in maize production is as a result of a reduction in the area planted from 1.7 million hectares last season to 1.5 million hectares this season, coupled with a reduction in the yields from 2.1 tonnes to 1.8 tonnes per hectare this season.
Generally maize production since pre-independence era has in the short-term been fluctuating while in the long-term it has been increasing.
According to Index Mundi, an online resource, Zambia Maize Production by year was 515,000 tonnes in 1961 and dropped to 480,000 tonnes in 1963 and to 395,000 by the independence year in 1964.
In 1981, due to various policies by the UNIP government which boosted the agricultural sector, the country recorded the highest production of 1.2 million tonnes.
The years that followed, the harvests drastically reduced until 1985 when 1.1-million tonne production was recorded while in 1987 another record-high production of 1.94 million was recorded.
Another record in the production of maize was broken in 2010 when 2.8 million tonnes of maize was harvested.
That record was shattered the following year when three million tonnes of maize was produced and in 2014 that was outdone by the 3.3 million tonne production.
While the country has been increasing maize production, it seems not to have done much in the improvement of productivity and addressing the cost of production.
The continued low productivity as the result of the high cost of living and other factors make the Zambian maize uncompetitive on the international market including within the region.
For instance in the 2010 marketing season, the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) set K65, 000 per 50 kilogramme bag of maize as the floor price for the commodity, which translated into $260 per tonne.
The FRA was to later export the same maize acquired at $260 per tonne at about $200 per tonne to some neighbouring countries thereby making a loss of at least $60 per tonnes excluding costs incurred in storage, transportation and others.
At that time the small scale farmers produced not more than 2.5 tonnes per hectare compared to four to five tonnes per hectare recorded in the region on average.
This has reduced from last year’s 2.1 tonnes to 1.8 tonnes per hectare this season.
The potential for maize is as high as eight-10 tonnes per hectare with good management.
As ironic as always, of the 2.7million tonnes projected for this year, 96 per cent is expected from the small and medium scale farmers.
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