Katuba UPND member of parliament Patricia Mwashingwele says the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) will have to take responsibility if hunger befalls Zambians next year.
And Petauke PF member of parliament Dora Siliya says there is need for the country to graduate to farming practices that are not rain dependent.
Debating the 2019 budgetary allocation in parliament on Tuesday afternoon, Mwashingwele observed that FRA gave farmers a raw deal last season.
“I would want to start by saying that the budget line on agriculture is very low. We are even failing to meet the protocols that we’ve signed on this very important aspect of our life. The reduction of the budget of agriculture shows the lack of political will towards this important ministry. If we cannot put our money into agriculture as a nation then I don’t know where else. The Minister of Agriculture spoke about having only bought a 100,000 metric tonnes this year when actually FRA was supposed to have bought 500,000 metric tonnes. That has an indication of what is going to happen next year. If the weather this year does not go in our favour and we have failed to meet the expectation of this year, it’s a sure sign that we are expecting people to be hungry next year,” Mwashingwele said.
“If FRA cannot even meet their target, what are they there for? If they cannot protect the security of the food of this country, what are FRA there for? Why should we go hungry because they didn’t do the due diligence? The farmers did their part, they grew the maize. But it is because of giving them a raw deal that the farmers chose to sell elsewhere. When we look at this, it gives us a very insecure 2019. We pray that the weather will be for us but in the event that the weather is not for us, it means FRA will have to take responsibility for what may befall the country next year. I don’t think I have heard anything in the minister’s policy statement saying ‘FRA didn’t have the money’. They had the money but the farmers refused to sell to them. These are the consequences of lacking political will. Farmers are already out there in the field, they are toiling but if you look at FISP, it has gone through so many phases that sometimes even me as a member of parliament I don’t even understand how it’s working this year.”
Mwashingwele blamed human resource in the Ministry of Agriculture for some of the mistakes in the sector and called for some reshuffles.
“We have farmers in Katuba who’ve deposited money for the past three years but the government has not done the due diligence for them. They haven’t put in their part, and this farming season, we’ve come up with a new method, I don’t know whether there are three types of Farmer Input Support Programme that the farmer is going to encounter. Before farmers could understand what the FISP programme was all about, people were talking about Smart Zambia. Before they can even understand the basics, there is a change, but to whose advantage are these changes happening? Sometimes we should be specific, the human resource in the Ministry of Agriculture, I think some of them have over stayed in particular stations and as a result, these are the ones who are giving us problems. Honourable minister, I think it’s time some of these people should be moved, especially in Chibombo district. You would find irregularities Mr Chairman happening every year,” said Mwashingwele.
“They are paying the people that don’t even deserve to receive the support. We are paying people that don’t even exist, they only exist on paper. But when you go on the ground, you don’t find them. I don’t know if the Ministry of Agriculture is following this up. We have institutions like IAPRI who’ve done research on agriculture and they have given us valuable information. But as a country, we are not following what the experts are saying, we are doing things on our own. This FISP thing if we don’t know how to handle it, let us go and support Nitrogen Chemicals of Zambia. Can we support production. So unless we change, otherwise it is folly to expect a new result when we are doing the wrong thing all over again and expect that we will have a different result.”
Meanwhile, Siliya said there was need to invest in none rainfall dependent equipment to turn agriculture into a viable business.
“We have to separate maize from just being the food in the country and expand the food basket… if we are going to look at agriculture as a business in this country, then we have to invest and investment is beyond FISP. It means that we have to invest in electricity for irrigation. So that we are not here talking about rain-fed agriculture. It means that we have to invest in deep tanks so that we can support the livestock sector which is part and parcel of the crop agriculture. We also need to separate vulnerable and retired farmers from those who want to be business men and women in this sector. We have to invest in research, we need to have evidence based agriculture, and we on this side are trying to ensure that while we support the vulnerable farmers we all need a a whole new mindset,” said Siliya.
In winding up debate, Agriculture Minister Michael Katambo highlighted some of the initiatives that his ministry had embarked on to improve the sector.
“We realise that we may be faced with a lot of challenges as a ministry of agriculture and a lot of opportunities can grow the sector sustainable and efficiently. It is important to underline the importance of various crop production for agriculture, especially in the rural communities and our big commercial farmers. Mr Chairman, on the issue of climate change, the ministry is formulating a project that is aimed at addressing the effects of climate change by promoting interventions that strengthen the farmer resilience in climate change, especially in areas where we experience adverse effects of weather. These interventions will respond to the issue of irrigation and promotion of dam construction and drought torrent crops that can uplift the livelihood of our citizens,” said Katambo.