Alliance for Democracy and Development (ADD) president Charles Milupi says the depletion of Zambia’s gross international reserves will make it difficult for the PF government to reverse the deteriorating economic situation.

And Milupi says that the hunger situation in Western Province had reduced some Zambians to eating hard figs.

In an interview, Milupi said citizens were being strangled by PF’s bad economic policies.

Zambia’s reserves by the end of February, this year, dropped to a 10-year low of US $1.43 billion, representing just 1.6 months of import cover from US $1.56 billion, or 1.8 months of import cover, by the end of last year, triggered by government’s continued external debt servicing.

“The PF government has depleted the reserves! We are being strangled by the bad economic policies of the PF government and I dare say now that it is impossible for this lot, who are in government starting from Mr Lungu and his Ministers, to sort out the economy. The Ministers have tried, Mwanakatwe (Margaret) tried when she was Minister of Finance starting from Mutati (Felix); they tried to bring austerity. When your revenues can no longer meet your expenditure, you now have to cut down your expenditure. I said it at a time that these measures announced by the Minister will not go anywhere because it doesn’t show seriousness because the first person who will break the austerity is the President. The situation will get worse!” Milupi said.

“Yes, the economy is on a meltdown! The high mealie prices is the result of lack of agriculture policies by this PF government; the only agriculture intervention that they have carried out is to follow what was instituted by the MMD government, what was called the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) where they supply a few bags of fertilizer and so on. Remember when Mr Sata was campaigning in 2011, he said they are going to improve on this, but instead of, I think at the time they were giving four bags, they were going to give 15…that never happened! In fact, even that intervention has gotten less. So, that’s a total mess! No policy whatsoever! The farmers have left with their own devices, there has been no interventions happening; there has been no interventions in ensuring that inputs are delivered on time so that we get the required yields.”

He argued that the poor agricultural policies traced back to Justice Minister Given Lubinda’s tenure of office as Agriculture Minister.

“Two seasons ago, when Given Lubinda was Minister of Agriculture, that is when the meltdown started; the meltdown to what we are experiencing now. You see, Zambians sometimes don’t like analyzing issues: what happened was the previous year, the price (of a 50Kg bag of white maize) was pegged at K60 per bag; the following year, it was announced that it will be K85. Remember, the subsequent year, Given Lubinda, as Agriculture Minister, dropped the price from K85 back to K60; all of us who were in the agriculture sector said this was a disaster and that includes Zambia National Farmers’ Union (ZNFU). And I did my own calculations; for that year, the cost of producing one, 50Kg bag of maize, was in the region of K75 so to drop it at K65 meant that we are stealing from the farmers!” he lamented.

“In spite of what we said, in spite of what the ZNFU said, they insisted on that lower price so you stole from the farmer; you removed from the farmer the capacity to deal with subsequent bad seasons, for most of them, medium-scale farmers, and even large-scale farmers even equipment replacement or equipment maintenance like tractors, ploughs, cultivators and so on was affected. So, you now have a farming community that has been reduced on account of government coming up with a price, which was much lower than the previous price.”

Milupi said government’s failure to stop maize and mealie meal exports earlier this year despite the drought spell exacerbated the situation.

“And now what has followed is when you have that depressed situation with regards to the farmers, when you have this drought we had last year, the small-scale farmers; the peasant farmers, who rely on government to subsidize the fertilizer, which didn’t happen, the yields became extremely poor and the medium-scale farmers that would normally subsidize bad years from the harvest of the good years; that didn’t happen,” Milupi recalled.

“Adding on to this, the last nail in the coffin Mr Lungu and his cronies decided that the agricultural sector had to provide their pocket monies so they got involved in trading exporting maize into East Africa and all over the place mainly it was the PF government officials that were doing that. This year, even when we saw that the season was bad as late as February when everybody knew, Mr Lungu said himself, no! There is enough maize for export and removed the restriction on exports of maize, so they exported the little that was there even when they knew that the harvest was that bad. The harvest is very very bad and there is no sufficient maize in the country because we didn’t produce enough and what existed then in the Food Reserve Agency(FRA), selfish people exported it on account that the President was saying we have enough maize.”

And Milupi said the hunger situation in Western Province had reduced some Zambians to eating hard figs.

“So, the price of maize is high because it is responding to the supply and demand principle. In Southern Province, in Western Province; parts of Central Province; parts of Eastern Province, there was drought and there is starvation; there is hunger! I have just come back from parts of Western Province and parts of Southern Province; in Western Province, people are eating things that I have never imagined could be eaten! People are crushing and eating…you know these Rosewood in Lozi the call it Muzauli, they are eating those hard figs! It has never been eaten; that is how far the starvation is. The economy has collapsed!” complained Milupi.