The Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR) has observed that crop marketing, specifically maize marketing, has completely failed in Zambia.

And CSPR says the policy reversal on the maize purchasing price reinforces the fact that maize remains a political crop in the country.

President Edgar Lungu recently directed the FRA to review and adjust upwards the price of maize, saying the recently-announced K65 per 50Kg bag, was “unfair to farmers.”

Reacting to the policy U-turn, CSPR executive director Patrick Nshindano said President Lungu should not interfere in the setting of the maize purchasing price because that indicated a lack of co-ordination and policy consistency in government.

“As CSPR, we think there are a number of issues with regards to the FRA pricing. One, we don’t expect the President every year to be intervening in the maize pricing. This demonstrates lack of co-ordination on the part of different government agencies. As you know, one of the key challenges the country had faced in the past is the issue of policy inconsistencies. So, where you have one arm of government indicating that this is what it should be, and the directive from the Head of State indicating otherwise. We have seen this in subsequent years; like despite the Head of Sate indicating last year that he will not intervene [in setting maize pricing], but in previous years he has also done the same. So, it should not be the prerogative of the President to be able to do that,” Nshindano told News Diggers! in an interview.

“We expect that government will operate within the set boundaries, set budgets, set mechanisms based on evidence of saying, ‘this is what is available, the grounds of what this can be bought at.’ Not to say that the FRA price currently is correct, the FRA price is definitely low, and everybody has observed that fact, because the inputs in terms of what went into the production of maize particularly, most of these inputs were up during the previous farming season.”

Nshindano observed that maize marketing had completely failed in Zambia.

“We expect a much higher price to be set on the part of the FRA. That’s one thing, but the second thing is that, FRA should not be the benchmark for market pricing in the country and this is where we have gotten it very wrong. FRA’s core mandate is basically to ensure that there is secure national [strategic] food reserves; there is strategic reserve to ensure national food security and their prices are the prices which they are offering to the market, saying we can buy this commodity [‘at a particular price’],” Nshindano said.

“What we have noticed is the failure of crop marketing in Zambia generally, and specifically the maize. Marketing has failed us tremendously! And that is where efforts need to be put in place to ensure that policies are going to be efficient enough to ensure that the market operates effectively and efficiently to be able to set the price based on two key fundamentals, which is the cost of inputs in the production, secondly it is the demand on the market.”

He said efforts needed to be put in place to ensure that policies are going to be efficient enough to ensure that the market operates effectively and efficiently without interference from government.

“…But the fact that FRA now influences what is prevailing in the market is a very sad moment and a wrong approach all together, which needs to be revisited because this distorts the market. It also disincentives the farmer because when you farm and you find that the cost of inputs is high, they have to offload their products out there at a low price. Basically, the farmers, you will see them moving away from producing maize in future. We need to ensure that the markets operate sufficiently,” Nshindano noted.

And he Nshindano observed that politicians had a tendency of using maize to gain political mileage.

“There is no running away from the political nature of maize in Zambia. Maize is a political crop and politicians will always use it to gain political mileage where necessary. This is regardless of who is in power, and what needs to be done is that they need to marry that political nature of the crop, in terms of maize, with policy. Because the political nature of maize is that this is a staple crop. And it is one that is grown by many Zambians and it affects the lives of people; once you tamper with that, you are basically tampering with people’s votes, also your stay in power. Politicians have realised that when you look at the FRA, it is also that sensitive when it comes to procuring of that price and that’s why we are saying we need to detach FRA from setting the price of maize. We need to ensure that it becomes market-oriented. Once it becomes market-oriented, the market will be able to influence the price, eventually, that the FRA is able to buy,” he said.