THE Centre for Trade Policy and Development has urged the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) to increase their maize purchase price if they hope to reach the one million metric tonnes maize target.

In a statement, Wednesday, CTPD executive director Isaac Mwaipopo urged the Agency to increase the K110 per 50Kg maize bag price as most farmers were opting to sell to private buyers who are offering a better price.

He added that a CTPD investigation revealed that some FRA sheds around the country were still empty despite President Edgar Lungu’s directive that the Agency purchase one million metric tonnes during the current crop marketing season.

“The FRA will have a serious challenge in meeting the targeted one million metric tonnes of grain in the 2019/2020 marketing season. In May, this year, Agriculture Minister Michael Katambo announced the Crop Forecast Survey results in which the country recorded a bumper harvest of 3,387,469 metric tonnes in the 2019/2020 agriculture season. This was an increase from the 2,004,389 million metric tonnes produced last season, representing an increase of 69 per cent. Despite recording a bumper harvest, a recent spot check done by researchers from CTPD in Kaoma and parts of Chongwe districts has revealed that several sheds are still empty weeks after the FRA commenced the procurement exercise. In trying to identify the challenges, we learnt that several farmers were unhappy with the K110 per 50Kg bag price offer from the FRA,” Mwaipopo stated.

“Recently, Agriculture Minister Michael Katambo announced that the FRA would be buying grain on a cash basis following the release of funds. But despite this brilliant incentive, several farmers are still hesitant to deliver grain to the FRA sheds due to lack of trust, which could be emanating from the Agency’s historical delays in paying farmers. We have also noted that several farmers are now opting to either sell their maize to private buyers, who are offering much higher prices, or keep the grain until they see improvements on the prices.”

And he advised government to consider reducing the FRA’s maize purchase target to 500,000 metric tonnes to enable the Agency increase their purchase price.

“It is CTPD’s observation that farmers are doubting government’s pronouncement that it will be procuring grain on a cash basis this marketing season. Farmers appear to think that government merely wants to trick them in to delivering grain and thereafter subject them to the usual long delays in payments, which causes frustration. Therefore, the Centre recommends the following to government for consideration: FRA should consider re-looking at its participation price; it should seriously consider raising it up to a much competitive price. In an event that the FRA is afraid of the cost implications of revising upwards the price, government can consider the 2020 grain target from one million metric tonnes to the prescribed 500,000 metric tonnes. II). There is need to carry out more sensitization on the recent policy directive to pay farmers on the spot in the 2020 marketing season, most of the farmers doubt this reality. III). With regards to COVID-19, there is need for more sensitization to be done, several small-scale farmers are not adhering to prescribed guidelines, especially with regards to wearing of face masks,” stated Mwaipopo.