President Edgar Lungu says he only intervened in setting the maize floor price last year because there was a shortage of the commodity.

Launching the 2017 planting season in Monze today, the Head of State also wondered why crops like soya beans and wheat were not as politicized as maize.

“The Food Reserve Agency, as a unit challenged by law to ensure that there is food in the country looking at the pricing and everything and they arrived at K60 per 50 Kg of maize. I know there are some brewers and millers who were buying maize at higher than K60 per 50Kg. But I know there are some farmers who were selling less than K60 but what I am empasising is that we want to support agriculture. The question is why don’t we have politics over the price of soya, or the price of wheat and all other crops other than maize?” President Lungu asked.

“Yes there was a time when I said we will increase the price of purchasing of maize to K85 per 50 Kg because there was a scarcity; there was a shortage of maize in the country.
That answers to the question by president Jervis Zimba that which government neglects the staple food, we are not neglecting maize, if there is a problem, we will enter.
I want to make it clear that as long as most people continue eating maize, we will be watching over it and when things go wrong we will intervene but this time around you should let it go.”

He said the K60 per 50kg bag of maize market price was ideal because it wasn’t too high or too low.

“I want to conclude on the maize thing by saying very clearly that as a student of history, I read a book where in China some philosopher was saying if the price of rice goes beyond affordability of most people there is a problem, it goes too far up, there’s a problem, too down, there is a problem and that we can also say for Zambia…I think for now we are okay with maize,” he said.

He advised farmers in Southern Province to improve their performance or risk being surpassed by other regions.

“It is not a coincidence that we are here today, because we agreed, I requested with ZNFU that we launch this exercise today here in Monze. Forget about climate change, forget about politics but the truth of the matter is that there is a decline in agriculture in Southern Province…other regions are picking up. So if you think you are ahead of your friends without increasing your performance, you will be superseded by your friends the very next day,” President Lungu said.

“In short, I am here to emphasise the importance the PF government attaches to the agriculture sector as a priority area in our development agenda. I can only encourage you to continue being ahead of other provinces.”

He also emphasized the need for diversification.

“As a farmer, you should look beyond maize. I am not saying we should abandon maize, no, I am just saying there is much more we can grow and make money and eat more than maize.
As government we agreed that this year we should procure 500,000 metric tonnes of maize as food reserve in case there is a shortage of food…We have opened our borders so that excess grain, especially excess maize can be exported. Our priority is to feed our citizens and to render support to our farmers through grain export as has been the case this year,” said President Lungu.

“Like I have said, we will only intervene in the market in a well measured manner, unlimited to achieve a strategic objective of national food security. It is the PF governments desire to ensure that the private sector, you the farmers here and agri business take the lead in the agriculture sector. We stand, as PF, for open and free market operations but we will never work alone, we have to work with you farmers.”

Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Dora Siliya said government could not ban the importation of crops like onions and potatoes because local farmers were incapable of meeting the demand all year round.

“During certain times of the year, our Zambian farmers, because of the absence of irrigation, they are only able to produce so much potatoes and onions leaving a gap when they have to import the shortfall which we the Zambians and everybody else living in Zambia goes to buy from Soweto or indeed the super market. It was also very clear to us that the call by ZNFU to ban the importation of these products had to be done in consultation with the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry. Zambia is not an island, just last week we had issues between the border with the DRC, right now we have had a challenge ourselves exporting maize to east Africa passing through Tanzania,” said Siliya.

“We are not an island, we have to do things in consultation. If we ban importation of products from other countries, they also reciprocate and ban the exports for example now when we need to sell maize to their countries. So now, the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry has been in consultations of how we can address this matter together with ourselves.”

She also said contrary to ZNFU’s view that government had neglected farmers, the PF had enhanced support to farmers through the e-voucher system.