UPND chairperson for agriculture, food and water development Levy Ngoma says the Food Reserve Agency’s maize price has potential to jeopardise the country’s food security.

Recently, FRA pegged the maize floor price at K110 per 50kg bag of maize.

But speaking during a press conference at the UPND secretariat, Monday, Ngoma said government should consider reviewing this years’ floor price for the sake of farmers who rely entirely on their produce as a source of survival.

He said private buyers were already purchasing the commodity at K150 and K200, a move which farmers had embraced.

“It is now public knowledge that private buyers have already gone ahead purchasing the same quantity of maize at K150 and K200 spot cash, a move which most farmers have embraced due to the hostile economic indicators currently prevailing in the country. This move is so unfortunate because it has led to most vulnerable and desperate farmers sacrificing food security for quick cash. If not curtailed, this trend poses a danger to farmers whose asset base has constantly been wiped out due to adverse weather patterns as well as the poor agriculture policies under the Patriotic Front (PF) regime. The move also has the potential to limit the bargaining power, especially the private buyers who are likely to lower their prices in conformity to the FRA price,” Ngoma said.

“This will further result into the already cash strapped small scale farmers to opt to sell their produce to the private buyers who do not only buy at a much higher price but also pay spot cash thus affecting the national food reserves which have continued to dwindle to lowest levels. It is worth noting that the FRA only managed to buy 52 bags of white maize in the entire Gwembe district in 2018 while much of the produce was taken up by the private buyers. This trend if not checked is likely to replicate itself across the country this year and affect food security, hence our call on the reserve agency to be conscious of its decision.”

Ngoma said FRA was distorting the maize market as they seemed not to have taken into consideration production costs incurred during the last farming season.

“Sadly enough, the Patriotic Front, in connivance with the FRA has failed to live up to the consensus reached at by the stakeholders that resolved to price the white maize at between K 130 and K 140 based on the prevailing market indicators considering the fact that the 2019 farming season was plagued by poor rainfall pattern. This we note however, that the FRA seem not to have taken the factors of production into consideration when coming up with the K 110 per 50 kg bag of white Maize and the UPND feels this price if not changed, will leave small scale farmers more vulnerable to manipulation by the private buyers. We are also cognizant of the fact that President Edgar Lungu recently assured the farmers that Government would provide a decent crop floor price but that was a complete deceit as the farmers have yet again been given a raw deal despite recommendations from stakeholders,” he noted.

“The decision by the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) to peg the 2019 maize floor price at K 110 per 50 kg bag of white maize is a complete distortion of the maize market dynamics. The FRA has a mandate to Secure National food reserves and to be a buyer of the last resort but definitely with the announced non – economic prices, that mandate remains a pipe dream and unattainable.”

He appealed to government to create an enabling environment and invest in research and development techniques in order to combat the problem of food insecurity in the country.

“The UPND wishes to appeal to the government to be considerate and create an enabling environment in which agriculture becomes sustainable as it has the potential to become the backbone of our economy. We urge the government to quickly search its consciousness and reconsider this year’s floor price if not for national food security but for the farmers whose lives entirely depend on their crops in the midst of harsh economic conditions. We also wish to urge the PF to consider investing in research and development techniques in order to combat the underlying problem of food insecurity which has continued to affect our country’s crop production due to global warming,” said Ngoma.

“There is need for the Government to invest more in the agriculture sector as it has the potential to become the country’s economic lifeline owing to favourable weather conditions, water reserves, land and human resource. We further wish to advise the Government to earnestly recapitalize the nitrogen chemicals of Zambia (NCZ) and allow it to locally produce enough fertilizers for local consumption. This will subsequently lead to reduced production costs.”