Government’s continued delay to pay agro dealers will mean farmers will not plant a sufficient crop this farming season, says former Agriculture and Livestock Deputy Minister Luxon Kazabu.

Last month, Agriculture Minister Michael Katambo disclosed in Parliament that government still owed agro dealers K374 million.

And last week, some agro dealers told Hot FM news that they had stopped supplying inputs until the government clears the outstanding debt for the inputs supplied in the previous season.

Commenting on government’s outstanding debt, Kazabu said the delay in paying the agro dealers was causing a chain reaction such as the delay by farmers to effectively plant their crops, which would ultimately lead to reduced crop output next year.

“You can’t be sending farming inputs late; it means you are disadvantaging the farmers. I had happened to be at the Ministry and I do recall that we became very proactive; people were saying that fertilizer was already sitting where the farmers were; all that was required was for the individual farmer to go and pay his contribution and farmers got their fertilizer. Now, I don’t know what is happening, but clearly, our farmers will be hit below the belt if the agro dealers have not being paid,” Kazabu said.

“The agro dealers are not going to supply what they are supposed to supply. I have heard the agro dealers now saying ‘we can’t supply them, we have not been paid from the previous supplies’, and admittedly, they are right, they are in business. You know, if you are an agro dealer, you are operating on profit. The non-payment of the agro dealers has a chain reaction. Since they are business people, it is understandable if they do withhold the supplies that they ought to give to the farmers. I hope the people in the corridors of power, for once, reflect and say, ‘for once, we can do better’.”

He stressed that government needed to start prioritizing the agriculture sector if Zambia was to improve its agricultural production.

The country’s maize production drastically fell to just two million metric tonnes this year from 2.4 million tonnes produced last year, a second successive drop, and also the lowest harvest in a decade since 2009.

“It is not too late. Money which is being spent where it doesn’t matter most can be re-directed to agro dealers. The chain will start functioning. As long as they are not paid, the small-scale farmers will end up disadvantaged. It is a case of government not spending money where it matters. We hear of billions of kwacha being misapplied, that is the money, which was supposed to go to the agricultural sector to help the small-scale farmers increase agricultural production. They need to re-direct the resources to sort out the problem. As long as it is business as usual, I am afraid as much as we desire to develop the agricultural sector, we’ll not achieve the desired development in the sector,” Kazabu said.

And Kazabu called on government to recapitalize Nitrogen Chemicals of Zambia (NCZ) to enable the company improve production of Compound D fertilizer.

“Government is to blame for the failures in Nitrogen Chemicals of Zambia. NCZ requires urgent recapitalization. I do recall one year, I think that year, we ended up recording the highest bumper harvest; we pushed for NCZ to be given money. I recall we started distributing D Compound [fertilizer] as early as May. We pushed for money from the Ministry of Finance and we saw NCZ operate at an improved capacity despite the old equipment and machinery,” recalled Kazabu.

“So, the first thing that should happen, if we want that plant to meet the national requirement in terms of the fertilizer that they produce, we have no choice but to recapitalize. And you are talking about big money, not small money.”