Minister of Agriculture Micheal Katambo says it is time to make tough decisions because the current mode of subsidising maize to selected millers is not sustainable.
And Millers Association of Zambia (MAZ) executive director Andrew Chintala has bemoaned the continued policy inconsistency by the government which is hampering growth in the sector.
Meanwhile, the Zambia National Farmer’s Union (ZNFU) has called on the ministry to set a strategic limit for reserves and allow the market to trade openly and avoid under cutting each other by players in the value chain.
Speaking during the opening of the maize industry stakeholder meeting, Wednesday, Katambo predicted that the prices of maize and mealie meal would remain high until the next harvest.
“The millers who benefit from the subsidized maize do not pass on the benefit to the Zambian consumers. This, we have seen, happens year in, year out. Don’t you think it’s time we did something different? Not all millers access the cheap FRA maize and this results into unfair competition among millers themselves. Time has come to take the issue of strategic reserves very seriously in view of climate change which is here to stay. Zambia must always have sufficient maize reserves for the difficult times and we should not be offloading maize from the reserves any how as if FRA is a trading company,” said Katambo.
“We cannot continue with business as usual, let us call a spade a spade and agree that it is time to implement other effective options of cushioning mealie meal prices. Effective options are needed like yesterday for one simple reason and that is because the current year is unique and unusual. One major challenge is the resultant high maize and mealie meal prices which are expected to characterize the whole period until the next maize harvest.”
Katambo, however, noted that FRA did not have the capacity to keep and offload huge quantities of maize on the market to cushion the price of the commodity.
And MAZ bemoaned the continued policy inconsistency by the government which was hampering growth in the maize sector.
“Minister, the issue of policy that you mentioned is very key and I am glad that you observed it. The issue of inconsistency in policy is what has brought us to where we are. Government announced the opening of the borders, five days later, the borders are closed. How then with these inconsistencies in government are we going to grow the sector? Minister, may I say that the policies that your government has put in place are conducive but the issue is consistency and implementation. We appreciate the policy of diversification, it’s a very good policy. But when you are preaching and talking about crop diversification, let us not discourage our farmers from growing maize. We need to ensure that we explain these policies. The policy means well, some farmers have misunderstood and some sector players have misunderstood crop diversification like we are saying stop growing maize and grow other crops,” noted Chintala.
Meanwhile, ZNFU vice-president Elicon Spyron called on the ministry to set a strategic limit for reserves and allow the market trade openly and avoid under cutting each other by players in the value chain.
“On the other hand, consumption subsidies should be made available to socially disadvantaged groups only using predetermined targeting mechanisms. Our starting point is that you never set a strategic maize reserve target which is purely for strategic purposes. Let farmers farm, let cost reflective prices be determined through an open market platform which is the reason the union has been in support of the agriculture commodity exchange. We should all embrace a competitive environment and not players in the value chain under cutting each other. And socially disadvantaged groups should be taken care of by a stated target strategy to be redeemed by targeted retailers,” said Sypron.