Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR) executive director Patrick Nshindano says government is exploiting poor Zambians by re-selling a 50Kg bag of maize to communities at K111 given that the commodity was procured at K70.

Last week, Agriculture Minister Michael Katambo said government, through District Commissioner’s offices in drought-hit areas, had allowed community sales of maize at K111 per 50Kg bag.

He was reacting to claims by Chikankata UPND member of parliament Chrispin Mwiinga who alleged that government was making profit out of its people by re-selling Food Reserve Agency (FRA) maize at K111 per 50Kg bag when it was initially purchased at K70.

“They don’t know what they are talking about! There are community sales. We encourage community sales in areas where we are hit by drought spells or calamities of the maize. They do these recommendations through the District Commissioner’s offices. This maize will no longer be K70. There are modalities in place, transportation from one strategic reserve to the other, storage facilities, fumigation [and] you think it will still remain at K70? That is why we are selling as community sales at K111 to cater for those who are not able to manage the crisis that they have been fallen in over food,” Katambo explained.

But Nshindano, in an interview, observed that the high maize price being offered to farmers was exploitative and needed to be stopped to ease the burden on people in drought-prone areas.

“Government needs to ensure that the price is maintained at an affordable level and, therefore, moving forward, they need to re-look at this and if the reports are deemed true, this exploitative pricing needs to be brought to adjustment at the earliest possible time, especially given that the areas that are in consideration are areas that have been identified as hunger-prone areas because of the poor rainfall pattern that we have recorded. And, therefore, the market cannot come in to be able to regulate those prices. And if a government institution like FRA is the one that is in the forefront of exploitative pricing, what happens when the market comes in is that the price will even go beyond the reach of many Zambians! So, this is unacceptable and we hope that this will be revised to be able to reflect the true cost of the commodity given that the maize was procured at a relatively low price compared to the market. And, therefore, there is no justification on the part of the FRA to offer such a high price to the community,” Nshindano said.

He bemoaned that there were still so many inefficiencies within the crop marketing system, which were passed on to poor Zambians.

“It is, therefore, imperative that even as we move towards cost reflective tariffs as a country, this is in terms of electricity but also in terms of the FRA and many other programmes that we are providing, we need to ensure that those costs are not inflated. We need to ensure that it’s a true reflection of what the cost is actually for that particular commodity or product. The challenge that we have noted in many instances in our country is that the costs tend to be quite inflated, they carry with them a lot of inefficiencies within the system and this burden is passed on to the poor Zambians, which turn to be exploited and unacceptable,” Nshindano noted.

He said government needed to establish an affordable maize price that would not undermine the poverty reduction efforts made so far.

“Appreciating the position that we find ourselves as a country and the need for cost reflectiveness, government through the FRA needs to establish what the true cost of procurement of maize is, given the cost that they procured on, but also additional costs either of transportation, storage and so on and ensure that they establish a price that will be affordable, that will not undermine efforts towards poverty reduction, but also given the context within which we are living where the cost of living is extremely high and where a number of our citizens cannot be able to afford this essential commodity in our staple food,” said Nshindano.

“As Civil Society of Poverty Reduction, we have learnt of reports of inflated pricing on the part of the FRA in Chikankata District as quite disappointing. We do know that the FRA’s mandate is to ensure that there is national food security and, therefore, when they start inflating prices beyond the reach of many Zambians that tends to defeat the whole purpose. The FRA programme needs a continuous revision in terms of enhancing how the programme is implemented because if they continue, (they will) remain problematic both in terms of their implementation, but also in terms of their sustainability.”