Agriculture Minister Michael Katambo says the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) has only managed to buy 90,000 metric tonnes from the targeted 300,000 metric tonnes since the opening of the 2019 crop marketing season.

And Katambo says increased maize production is the only solution to the current challenges obtaining in the Zambia, such as the high mealie meal prices.

Meanwhile, Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) president Jervis Zimba says government must look into the high cost of producing maize because farmers also want to make money.

Speaking to journalists on the side-lines of the strategy for national increased maize production stakeholders meeting at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre, Tuesday, Katambo disclosed that the FRA had only managed to buy 90,000 metric tonnes of maize since the opening of the 2019 crop marketing season in July.

He, however, noted that whether the FRA reached its buying target or not, the country would still remain food secure.

“Like for this marketing season, FRA is targeting to buy about 300,000 metric tones, and so far, we have managed to buy about 90,000 metric tonnes and we are still in the market and the market is still open, and FRA is still buying maize from the market. Of course, we are in the market. When you hear pronouncements that the country is food secure, it is because of the carryover stocks that we have besides what we are buying now in the market. Our target, whether we don’t manage, our strategic reserves or the requirement as per monthly requirements, we are managing these requirements or these tonnages that’s why we are emphasizing as government with the figures that FRA is updating us that we are food secure,” Katambo said.

He asked farmers to utilize private buyers like chain stores to sell their produce when FRA was unavailable to purchase.

“We buy maize from the farmers like any other players. Of course, if farmers are producing (in the) off-season, there is market already that has been created like chain stores, local markets, farmers are taking their fresh maize, or even dry maize, of course, big commercial farmers with dryers and drying facilities to sell. Issue of export restriction is only because we look at what we can manage as a country or what we have within the country, that’s why we put these measures, but otherwise, FRA is just like any other private sector player who goes into the market to buy, according to the targeted metric tonnes that it needs to buy,” he said.

And speaking when he officially opened the said meeting, Katambo noted that increased maize production was the only solution to challenges like high mealie meal prices obtaining in the country.

“Only by increasing maize production can we bring an end to the challenges we have been experiencing, such as high mealie meal prices and reduced export earnings from the maize sub-sector. Let me now come to the purpose of our meeting today. Following the round of consultations my Ministry has had with stakeholders, a number of issues were brought to our attention that required bold decisions to be made. For example, concerns on policy inconsistency, especially in relation to export bans for commodities, such as maize. You also expressed concerns on market distortions resulting from interventions from the Food Reserve Agency and other issues that we discuss in relation to the need for timely distribution of inputs under the Farmer Input Support Programme and the need for strategies to be developed to control the outbreak of army worms,” said Katambo.

Meanwhile, speaking at the same event, Zimba insisted that government should look into the high cost of producing maize.

“And the issue that I wanted to talk about, the cost of production is going very high, Honorable Minister, and when our farmers go to any shop, we don’t talk to anybody, we just look at the tag there. Therefore, when we go back to do our mathematics and we try to look at are we going to get the money when we grow, we find that we have been subsidizing the urban people for a very long time. This time around, we, farmers, are saying: ‘give us space also, we also make some money, we also want to drive nice cars like you people in town, and we also want to have these DStv like everybody else!’’ We also want to have a conducive life like everybody where you are,” lamented Zimba.

“The people are always talking about high mealie meal prices. So, until we get to a right price, then all these things we are talking about will fail! And let us understand that we have no control ourselves on the input; when the price goes up, bear with the farmer, we also want to enjoy life just like you! Once the market is created, you don’t need to sing to a farmer, once the market is there, we grow, so we assure you that we will work together to ensure that the target given to us by the Head of State in Mumbwa is achieved.”