THE Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) has warned that the ongoing smuggling of maize has the potential to jeopardize official maize exports into neighbouring countries.

And the Union has cautioned that the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) may fail to reach its one million metric tonne maize target if it does not ensure timely payment to farmers.

In an interview, ZNFU president Jervis Zimba wondered how smuggling had continued despite Zambia National Service (ZNS) officers being dispatched to man border areas.

“What we are looking to have between the farmers and the millers is to put this under formal trade so that at least the country can realize the much-needed foreign exchange. If we don’t address this, we will not achieve the results of which we want to try and get foreign exchange for the country, but we ready. And like I said last week, we ran test trials and there are a few teething problems and we are happy that at least with the teething problems, if they are sorted out, we should be able to see the smooth flow over this week. But again, the millers are a little bit reluctant if the issue of smuggling continues. So, it surprises us because we hear there is ZNS all over and they have been in these borders for a long time, but the reports we are receiving is there is rampant smuggling,” Zimba said.

“Our major concern, really, on the exports is the issue of smuggling, which might hamper exports because we hear there is quite a lot of smuggling going on there. As you are aware, you can’t compete with smugglers as opposed to the formal sector. So, we have reported this matter to the Ministry of Agriculture and everyone is aware of these issues of smuggling, and they have promised to deal with them. But if the smuggling intensifies, then the exports will be in jeopardy. This week, there has been a test trial for exports, there has been a few teething problems, but I want to thank the ZRA Commissioner-General (Kingsley Chanda) for helping to ensure that the exports do take place.”

He said that the Union would focus on clearing up the early maize as contracts were currently ongoing.

“We are still analyzing the (2020) crop forecast figures. The issue of exports, we are dealing with the current early maize issue first like the (Agriculture) Minister (Michael Katambo) said. So, we are dealing with early maize until we finish the early maize project, that’s when we shall look at what is excess to which can be exported. So, for the early maize to be successful, like I said before, the smuggling needs to be sorted out. Then, secondly, we want to critically analyze the crop forecast to look at what is actually there. Mind you, when you talk about a bumper harvest, what’s tradeable in that is 50 per cent, always remember that, and this is where people miss it. You can say you produce the 3.5 million metric tonnes, but what’s tradeable is half because half is saved by the owners of the maize, who are consuming. On the early maize, the contracts are on-going,” he said.

“As you are aware, we also signed an MoU between Zambia and DRC to export 600,000 metric tonnes. The Union wants that deal to go through the formal trade so that government, the country can benefit. If you multiply 600,000 times whatever dollars they will sell it at, you can imagine that coming through the financial system, it will be a huge benefit to the country.”

And Zimba asked FRA to ensure it was financially ready to promptly pay farmers if the Agency hoped to hit its one million metric tonne maize purchase target.

“The President (Edgar Lungu) directed that they must buy one million metric tonnes. Our hope this year is FRA must pay on time and must pay spot cash like everybody else. If you look at analyses, FRA for the past four years have not been buying in full capacity for the strategic reserves because of these teething problems where farmers haven’t got faith in them to pay them on the spot. So, yes, the President directed, but if the FRA won’t have the resources to pay the farmers on time, they might not reach the target. So, I am sure they need to put their house in order. So, once they announce the (2020 crop marketing season) prices, we will be able to review if the price is reasonable and also the modalities of payment are that type,” said Zimba.

Last Wednesday, Agriculture Minister Micheal Katambo announced that Zambia’s estimated maize production had drastically increased to nearly 3.4 million metric tonnes for the 2019-2020 agricultural season up from just two million metric tonnes produced last year, the highest since the bumper harvest achieved in 2017, partly triggered by and favourable weather conditions higher average yield rates.

According to official Ministry data, Zambia is forecast to produce 3,387,469 metric tonnes this year from 2,004,389 metric tonnes produced last season, representing an increase of 69 per cent.

Additionally, the country has a maize carry-over stock amounting to 179,247 metric tonnes as at May 1, 2020, bringing the total supply of maize available for the 2020/2021 marketing season to 3,566,716 metric tonnes.

This year’s maize output of 3.4 million tonnes is the highest harvest since the 2016/2017 season where the country recorded bumper harvest of around 3,606,549 tonnes, the highest on record so far.