Agriculture Minister Michael Katambo says the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) has failed to purchase the targeted 500,000 metric tonnes of maize because farmers have opted to sell their produce to alternative buyers who are offering higher prices.

And Katambo says government has not banned the export of maize, but has instead put an administrative restriction, which will halt the export of maize for a limited period.

Responding to a query from Kalomo Central member of parliament Harry Kamboni, who wanted to know how many metric tonnes of maize the FRA had purchased and whether the agency would meet its target, Katambo said government is monitoring the food security situation, but that the agency would not manage to purchase 500,000 metric tonnes of maize.

“As of 11th October, 2018, the Food Reserve Agency has procured 166,831 metric tonnes of maize. This represents 33.4 per cent of the targeted amount of 500,000 metric tonnes of maize. A comparative assessment of previous seasons’ purchases, and this season indicates that, the Food Reserve Agency may not meet the target of 500,000 metric tonnes of maize. Currently, the national strategic food reserves held by the Food Reserve Agency are at 479,727 metric tonnes of maize, which is composed of this year’s purchases and carry-over stocks. The stocks held by the Millers and Grain Traders’ [Associations] of the Zambia, National Farmers Union, are estimated at 473,343 metric tonnes. This brings the total in the country’s stock to 953,090 metric tonnes. Farmers are also holding on to maize stocks for their own consumption to see them until the next harvest. I urge the farmers not to offload all their stocks to the market. The government, through National Stocks Monitoring Committee, is continuously monitoring the maize stock in the country in order to ensure food security of the nation. Government has restricted the export of maize and mealie-meal,” Katambo announced.

“Madam Speaker, FRA like I said, may not meet the targeted 500,000 metric tonnes. Madam Speaker, there could be several reasons why the FRA would fail to meet the target. I would cite one or two; the private sector are offering higher prices [of maize] meaning our farmers have opted to go and sell their maize where they are offering higher prices. And also, holding farmers in expectation of higher prices could also contribute to this effect. Madam Speaker, we are not treading on a dangerous path. It is important to note that, FRA stores maize in strategic reserves for three to four to five years, that is why there is a recommendation of 12.5 moisture content when FRA wants to buy. Madam Speaker, the national and human consumption is estimated at 131,374 metric tonnes, the total maize required for human and industrial [consumption] is also estimated 165,469 metric tonnes.”

And Katambo added that government has not banned the export of maize, but has instead put an “administrative restriction,” which will halt the export of maize for a limited period.

“This will talk about feed production for livestock or poultry and other productions that are required in these in our strategic reserves when FRA is selling maize. This maize is for strategic reserves, but for the next six to eight months from now when we shall have another marketing season, then we shall have sustainability where food consumption is needed. There is no export ban, but only an administrative restriction. Therefore, there is no SI (Statutory Instrument) that has been issued to ban the export of maize and mealie-meal. The country needs to be food secure that’s why we have put these administrative restrictions so that we can sustain ourselves and be able to have enough stocks as a country. Madam Speaker, it’s a liberalised market. Farmers are able to sell where they can find good market,” Katambo narrated.

“Others are buying as high as K90 while us, under FRA, we are buying at K70 per 50 kg bag. This has not affected the price of maize, as other stakeholders and commercial private buyers are buying at a higher price. FRA has been restricted to procurement of only 500,000 metric tonnes of maize each season to avoid a crowding out of the private sector. Madam Speaker, the factor is that the private sector is able to offer a higher price than FRA is, indeed, an indication that the private sector has been stimulated by the restriction of FRA to purchase only 500,000 metric tonnes. This should be noted, Madam Speaker, that there should be some budgetary implications of increasing the FRA price; if it were to be increased, there would be need for a supplementary budget if what has been allocated in the resource envelope in the Yellow Book was to increase the price.”

Meanwhile, speaking to journalists during a press briefing to coincide with World Food Day, Katambo asked citizens to change their eating habits in order to effectively fight malnutrition and hunger.

The Minister also stressed the need for farmers to diversify their crop production so that citizens could have a wider range of food choices.

“There is need to promote cassava and all these other types of crops instead of constantly depending on nshima as a staple food. Increase investment in research and investment into the sector with emphasis on promoting climate resilient crops, which are also beneficial to the community; agriculture mechanisation with an emphasis on the promotion of conservation of agriculture equipment; the promotion of irrigation, especially for emerging and small-holder farmers; the promotion of improved storage of agro-products. This minimises food wastage. Enhancing water resource management and construction of other resilient agriculture infrastructure. Diversified crop production. People should change eating habits,” Katambo told journalists at Taj Pamodzi Hotel in Lusaka on Tuesday evening.

“Let me take this opportunity to recognise the investment by global citizens and Zambia, Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition and other organisations for the support rendered to our government in promoting food and nutrition security in the country. Our efforts would be futile without your involvement. We look forward to continue our partnership with you to ensure that we fight food insecurity and malnutrition in the promotion of nutrition in Zambia. We should be the global generation that can celebrate defeating hunger and malnutrition together.”