The Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) says farmers are waiting to get a better price for their maize from the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) as they will only sell their commodity to the highest bidder.

And the farmers’ union have urged government to only work with the electronic voucher system if they are sure that they have the money to handle the system well.

In an interview, ZNFU president Jervis Zimba said that as the 2019 crop marketing got underway, the FRA should ensure that their maize purchase price was fair for farmers.

“As you are aware, because of the heat, the maize dried quite early so the prices differ from area to area like Monze, for instance, (a 50Kg white maize bag) is going for K155; Mumbwa K120-K130. So, generally the marketing has been going on, so we are just waiting to see how government is going to offer their price,” Zimba said.

“So, as far as we are concerned, farmers are looking at getting a better price and I think the President (Edgar Lungu) has given a directive that the farmers this year must get a better price so we are just waiting to see. We have advised our farmers to get the (best) price possible so we are hoping that this year, farmers will get a better price.”

He added that the FRA was currently undertaking consultations with relevant stakeholders.

“At the moment, all we hear about FRA is they are still doing consultations and they are yet to avail us their new price, and the price of the market, but generally, the marketing has been going on from last month,” he said.

And Zimba urged government to ensure that they had adequate financial resources before rolling out the E-voucher system to ensure it worked smoothly in the next agricultural season.

“Those who got fertilizer under the conventional method were successful, but I think where we are still having challenges are the farmers under the e-voucher system. You know the way the system works: unless government puts in the money, the farmers will not get their inputs. So, government must really be sure that they are putting in money. You know, it’s a very good programme, but if they don’t have the money upfront, then it doesn’t work, it becomes a ‘non-starter’,” observed Zimba.

“It’s like you are going to Kitwe and you don’t have money for fuel, it means you can’t travel, so if they don’t have money, they should come out and let us know so that we can go back to the conventional method. So, our advice is, if there is no money, let us know so that we should advise government to say ‘you use this method,’ period!”

Last week, Agriculture Minister Michael Katambo announced that the FRA was expected to open the 2018-2019 crop marketing season by the first week of July as the maize moisture content almost reached the recommended 12.5 per cent moisture content level.

He explained that government was currently consulting stakeholders to arrive at an upward adjustment of a 50 kilogramme bag of maize.

The FRA’s maize purchase price was pegged at K70 per 50Kg bag of white maize ahead of the 2018 crop marketing season last year.

But the Agency offloaded the same quantity of maize at K111 during their community sales in hunger-stricken areas.