Minister of Agriculture Michael Katambo has announced that the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) will start purchasing maize and other agriculture produce by the end of this month.

And Katambo has reiterated that government does not set maize floor prices, but it’s the FRA’s mandate to determine the prices at which they want to purchase a 50 Kg bag of maize.

Meanwhile, Katambo has insisted that government will not allow the export of maize for now.

Responding to Kabompo UPND member of parliament Ambrose Lufuma who asked when the 2018/2019 agriculture marketing season would commence, and whether government had plans to announce the maize floor price and other agriculture produce; during the question for oral answer session in Parliament, Tuesday, Katambo announced that the agriculture marketing season had already commenced.

He, however, said that government did not announce maize floor prices, but that this responsibility lay with the FRA.

“The 2018/2019 agriculture marketing season has already commenced. The private sector is already actively involved in the purchase of variety of crops such as tobacco, cotton, soya beans and maize. However, FRA will commence its operations for the 2018/2019 agriculture marketing season at the end of July, 2018. Government does not announce any floor price for the maize and other agricultural commodities. However, FRA being the custodian of the national strategic food reserves, will announce the price at which it will purchase designated commodities; that is maize, rice and soya beans,” Katambo announced.

He disclosed that the FRA was prepared to purchase about 500,000 metric tonnes of maize for strategic reserves.

“FRA is prepared already to purchase about 500,000 metric tonnes as it purchased last season. There are certain measures that have been put in place for FRA to be ready. It has done recruitment of seasonal personnel, training of seasonal staff and the issue of monitoring of grain moisture content,” he narrated.

“FRA will still maintain the number of satellite depots that were indicated in the last marketing season. So, FRA will have about 796 satellite depots. However, this will be subject to revision on the case-by-case depending on the production levels in various parts of our country.”

But when queried further by Mazabuka Central UPND member of parliament, Garry Nkombo, who persisted on the maize purchase price this year when he asked: “When do you think FRA will give us this floor price, and you didn’t answer the very important question of whether you have allowed people to export maize so that those who do not get satisfied with what the local market is offering can export the maize and maximise on the profit?”

Katambo insisted that the FRA would announce the floor price by the end of this month when they start purchasing.

He, however, encouraged buyers to offer attractive prices to the farmers in order to increase production.

“As the Ministry, we are encouraging buyers to offer attractive prices to our farmers so as to encourage increased production. By end of July, FRA will come up with a price. Be rest assured that a few days from now FRA will come up with a price at which they will be buying a 50 Kg bag white maize,” Katambo responded.

He, however, reiterated that government would, for now, not allow the export of maize.

“The stocks committee looks at the stock levels that the country has and then make recommendations whether we have to allow our farmers or different stakeholders to export maize to various countries. It is important to note that, food security in the country is key, so we can only allow when we know that we have at least excess food or maize,” said Katambo.

Ahead of the commencement of the 2018 crop marketing season, a 50Kg bag of maize on the local market was selling at just K65 this year, down from K105 last year, representing a 38.1 per cent decline, according to IAPRI’s latest research findings.