Civil rights activist Brebner Changala says President Edgar Lungu is being hypocritical when he tells farmers to negotiate for better prices that would enable them recover production expenses as they sell their produce.

During the official opening of the 92nd Agriculture and Commercial Show, President Lungu reminded small-scale farmers to be mindful of securing their produce for household consumption as they sold the excesses and also encouraged all the farmers to negotiate for better prices that would help them cover the production expenses and to realise a good profit.

“I wish to remind all our farmers, particularly the small-scale farmers, to be mindful of securing their produce for household consumption as they conduct their marketing. As you sell, my advice to you is that, you should negotiate for better prices to cover your production costs and realise a good profit. In doing so, you will get maximum benefits from your farming enterprises,” said President Lungu.

But reacting to the President’s calls, Changala said President Lungu was being hypocritical with because it was not possible for farmers to negotiate for better prices when government was always interfering.

“Lungu is being hypocritical, he’s just politicking. You see, we are in a polarized society and President Lungu is the one who has sent this country into paralysis, he says things at one moment, and the next moment he does the another thing. The farmers cannot set the price of maize when the government is always intervening and setting prices for commodities that they have not produced. Worse still, when farmers want to get the better prices for their own products and when they start selling very well in terms of export, the same government intervenes and bans export. So, you can’t take this government very serious, this maize or whatever agricultural products farmers are producing, it sells quite well when it’s exported and that is the benefit our own farmers can get. But you find that the government will immediately intervene and ban exports and say, ‘we are running out of stock at home’. The whole thing is just politics and the farmer has no say,” Changala noted.

“So, Lungu is just trying to appease the farmers and I think that at [the] moment when he was at the Show Grounds, he had nothing to say, but he had to say something. But it can’t work, you believe a politician at your own peril, you will perish and you will remain! So, even when they say that the K70 maize-buying for FRA is not the floor price, it’s not true. Government is the biggest buyer and all other buyers follow the price that government is buying at, so what are they telling us? If you have heard of the word ‘sabotage’, this word is always in the mouth of a politician. What a farmer wants to do [with] his product, words like ‘smuggling’ come in, words like sabotage come in, and they excite the vocabulary immediately. Government can’t say, ‘anybody can do want he wants with their maize’, that is a lie and that is lying and that is typical of who they are. They are liars! I don’t know if they will call me other names if I call them liars. They will say I am insulting.”

Changala, however, encouraged farmers to soldier on despite the many challenges they were facing and ensure that they regained their rightful space on the market.

“Farmers should soldier on, they must soldier on and they must fight for their space and most importantly, their interaction with the politicians must be at a lesser level, not at a higher level. Because at a higher level, they have been conned and cheated and their interests have been shunted to the rear. A farmer is not respected in this country, if anything, he has been cheated! So, my message to the farmer is to soldier on and do what is correct to regain your authority over the produce that is yours. It’s not government’s responsibility to come and start telling you how much you must sell your own product, which you produced yourself, at a cost that you know and at a profit, which [you] can determine yourself,” said Changala.

Ahead of this year’s crop marketing season, the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) revised its maize purchase price to K70 per 50Kg bag from its K65 announced just one week prior following widespread stakeholder dissatisfaction, including from President Lungu.

However, the K5 increment has still not satisfied farmers, whose production costs exceed well over K100 per 50Kg bag, and are considering shunning the FRA in favour of private sector buyers, including export markets.