FARMERS must be sighing with relief over yesterday’s revelation that President Edgar Lungu was privy to the cry and lamentation of farmers over this year’s maize marketing, particularly over the unilateral price announced by the Food Reserve Agency (FRA).

That the President has found it fit to assure clergymen of his concern over the maize price wrangle shows how serious the issue is in so far as food security is concerned.

We are sure that President Lungu will bring all the parties and stakeholder involved in the agriculture sector, especially maize farmers to a round table to find an amicable solution.

The President’s decision to moderate in the wrangle as announced by his special assistant for press and public relations Amos Chanda is a relief to the farming community.

This followed President Lungu’s meeting with the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) clergy who paid a courtesy call on him at State House yesterday.  It was good that the President touched on the ongoing controversy regarding the price of maize.

The argument is simple and yet fundamental. The FRA, earlier in the year announced a purchase price that was outrageously unrealistic. It did not make economic sense that a farmer must sell a 50-kilogramme bag of maize for K60 when it cost him on average K85 to produce.

The FRA claimed its suggested price was based on market forces given that Zambia has this year produced a bumper harvest.  If anything the farmer was being punished for producing a bumper crop.

To make matters worse, FRA appeared to be intransigent to reason, saying it would not review the K60 per 50-kg maize price that it had arrived at.

Pleas for a review from key stakeholders like the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) did not sway the FRA. If anything ZNFU president, Mr Jervis Zimba was vilified for speaking out against the price which, he said, was taking the nation down a destructive path.

It was a destructive path in the sense that come the next farming season, farmers would abandon maize growing because it would not be profitable.  The long-term result is obvious.  The so-called bumper crop would finish and there would be no maize to cry about because there would not be any on the market.

It takes a lot of hard work for a farmer to produce his crop or whatever undertaking one is involved in.  It would not do the nation any good if the farmers were frustrated under the pretext of letting “market forces” dictate the prices.  If anything, FRA has failed to convince anyone on how they arrived at the K60 price for a 50-kg bag of maize.

This is because there are two groups of farmers – those under the Farmers Input Support Programme (FISP) who obtain subsidised agricultural inputs, and those farmers who get their inputs at commercial rates.  Simply put, those not under FISP lost out.

While it is understandable that FRA as a Government agency has to operate within budget parameters as  set out by the Ministry of Finance, the reality is that farmers have more serious negative dynamics associated with their cost of production.

FRA does not produce maize and yet its decision to price production acted as a floor price thereby disadvantaging farmers.

We appreciate that it may be very difficult to change the price midstream, never the less we expect that a suitable policy framework can be structures to enable the remaining bulk of maize with the farmers to be marketed in a money that will ensure a fair return for their effort.

It will not do to leave farmers high and dry because of the social and economic cost that will result. The reality is that farmers countrywide are angry. This anger is palpable and no amount of propaganda by the FRA will assuage it.

Our failure has always been on our inability to give the farmers an attractive price that motivates them to reach higher heights.

A good example is cotton production.  A few years ago, Zambia had a thriving cotton sector which has now collapsed because farmers received a raw deal when it came to pricing.  It would take a lot of convincing to make the small-scale farmers resume growing cotton after their bitter experience.

Maize is a political crop, therefore any effort at reform must be viewed with a long term perspective. Any shortcuts will have disastrous effect. We must learn from political history.

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