AGRICULTURE Minister Reuben Phiri says he will be shocked to see an increase in the price of mealie meal because the country has enough maize.

In an interview, Phiri said it would not make sense to see an increase in mealie meal prices when the Food Reserve Agency had about a million tonnes of maize.

“Prices are very interesting, you know there can be real and price changes. The issue is that with the quantities of maize available, we see stability in the price of mealie meal. We see a lot of stability, there could be some marginal stability going down but we are seeing a lot of stability. I will be shocked to see a price increase, it wouldn’t make sense. We have more than a million tonnes in the country right now, so why would the prices go up, impossible! The millers would be stuck with that story, we have so much maize that prices would be very stable,” he said.

When asked if there was any progress towards the payment of farmers who were owed by FRA, Phiri said explained how the agency was expected to offset this debt.

“I think the most important thing to realise is this, FRA had planned and was mandated to procure 500,000 metric tonnes of maize. For that 500,000 tonnes, all these farmers have been paid, the maize was well stocked. FRA has been asked continuously to procure more, that is where a bit of discomfort has come in. So there is an amount that is owing as a consequence of the whole programme not being planned. It was not a planned procurement, so what we are doing is that we have asked FRA to sell some of their maize so that they can use the proceeds to pay and also to use other innovative ways of using some of their maize as collateral so that banks can give them money and they can use that money to pay farmers. So this is progress and we are hopeful that soon this money can be realised and then the farmers start getting paid,” he said.

“So it is a very difficult question, I cannot say the money will be available by the end of the month, because it is all dependent on all sales and you know sales are unpredictable, it is all dependent on the banks discussing with FRA. What I can confirm to you is that FRA has been asked to discuss the same with ABSA and other banks. So they are in discussion. The first one is to sell part of the maize, if it can be sold, good enough, second option is to collateralize some of the maize. FRA has more than a million tonnes, so if they can say they got 500,000 tonnes and put in collateral, then they can use that proceeds to pay for some of the maize. Then they liquidate the maize back. So it is a way of getting money, of course there will be a small interest by the banks but the issue is to pay the farmers.”

And Phiri welcomed the setting up of United Capital Fertilizer Zambia Limited, saying it would reduce prices of fertilizer.

“For me what I can say is that any other company that manufactures fertilizer is welcome. What we want is to see fertilizer prices coming down by having fertilizer produced in the country. What is making this fertilizer expensive is that it is getting imported. So if it is recapitalization of NCZ, allowing other companies to come in, for us in agriculture what we want is to see fertilizer prices coming down, the current pricing is making farming very expensive,” said Phiri.