ZNFU president Jervis Zimba says government’s decision to import onions despite banning the practise is meant to cushion the impact left by the huge exports to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Earlier this year, government restricted the importation of onions and table potatoes into Zambia, saying that the country was currently able to meet its demand for the two commodities.

According to Ministry of Agriculture data, Zambia imported over 8.5 million Kg of onions last year compared to 5.4 million Kg imported in 2019.

But media reports revealed, Wednesday, that government had approved the importation of 100,000 metric tonnes of onions into the country.

Commenting on the development, Zimba said government would only be importing 1,350 metric tonnes of onions to help cushion the supply of dry onions locally and to the DRC market.

“At the moment we have got a lot of onions, which are called fresh onions coming from Eastern Province. Now, what has happened is the traders had mopped up all the onions and sold to DRC. So, what we have now done is we have had a meeting where we have recognised that it’s very important to still keep our market of DRC because farmers have grown quite a lot of huge stocks this year. So, we have only allowed them 1,350 MT to supply a bit here and also for exports to DRC because in four weeks’ time, our onions, locally, are going to come in. So, we are only trying to help a bit, locally, and to maintain the market into the DRC so that when our produce is out, when we have excess, we are able to maintain an export quota, which they normally do as DRC. So, we did realise the importance of maintaining that DRC market. So, we have allowed 1,350 MT for four weeks as a transition in order to have an open (market) as DRC,” Zimba explained.

“You cannot expand in terms of your production by consumption alone, you need extra to be exported so we are taking care of this. We are only trying to do a transition for a four-week period for our colleagues who are exporting.”

He wondered why local producers opted not to use fresh onions which were readily available on the market.

“You Zambians are very funny, there are a lot of onions in this country, which are coming on the market from Eastern Province, but they are saying, ‘no, this is fresh onion.’ Surely, you cannot eat fresh onion? Unless it is dry, I can’t believe this, honestly! The onion and potato association confirmed that, yes, they have started uplifting a lot of onions from Eastern Province. And for your own information, who can die in four weeks’ time if you use fresh onion for four weeks? There is no one. And you know, if there was a problem or an issue of tomatoes as a shortage, yes, we get worried because that’s a main ingredient of our relish that we use with our staple food. Tomato is a very critical component, but not on onions. So, we have a lot of onions on the market. All we are trying to do is to take care of our colleagues who have been exporting and they have been selling through Kasumbalesa,” he said.

And when asked whether a similar approach would be undertaken for potatoes, Zimba said a lot of potatoes had been grown and supply is expected to stabilise within a months’ time.

“We have a lot that is coming on the market, we have a lot of potatoes coming on the market. Mind you, what we are handling here is a transition, and you see, our colleagues in DRC, I think their uptake has just increased too much. So, now we are saying to ourselves, ‘okay let’s take care of that external market, which is very important because once the farmers are going to grow a lot, we don’t want to be short in terms of market…’ Within a month and a half, there will be stability. There are plenty of hectares that have been put up across in terms of potatoes,” he replied.

Meanwhile, Zimba appealed to the private sector to take interest and invest in setting up onion dryers in Eastern Province.

“I want to appeal to the business world, the entrepreneurs that please, try and set up driers in areas like Eastern Province. Contact Musika and CEEC (Citizens Economic Empowerment Commission) to help you put in serious driers in Eastern Province so that our farmers there, where it’s fresh, it’s able to go in the driers and then it comes on the market,” said Zimba.