THIS government will not run away from its weaknesses [and] when it’s failing, tell us in the face, don’t shout at us, just tell us, says President Hakainde Hichilema.

And Agriculture Minister Mtolo Phiri says the government will never close the country’s borders again.

Meanwhile, Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) president Javis Zimba says the agriculture sector is under attack from several external factors.

Speaking during the 2022 Agri-Tech Expo in Chisamba, Friday, President Hichilema said government would not run away from its weaknesses.

“We want to see the financial products laid on this sector. As a chief marketing officer, we are working to lower the cost of capital and credit lines availed to farmers and sectors. I love Congo because of the market it has for what we produce here. They say you are here selling your mealie meal, we gave an order of 600,000 metric tonnes before you came into office. You supplied maybe 50,000 metric tonnes but you did not supply the rest. The Congolese people need food every evening. So we gave that market to South Africa because you did not give the quantity you said. Can you blame Congo? Let us fix those issues. There are issues of capacity, efficiency and cost of production,” he said.

“How is it that South Africa is able to land 25kg bag of mealie meal in Lubumbashi at a cost lower than us? So that instrument we are setting up and announcing this month is called the Public Private Partnership Dialogue for Development. All the economic sectors, private sector will now formally work with the government as one in agriculture and financial services. This means all types of agriculture. Public Private Partnership Dialogue for Development will be our way of working going forward. Call me any name you want, it is okay. After two, three years we will all be happy that we did it. This government will not run away from its weaknesses. When it is failing, tell us in the face. Do not shout at us, just tell us. We have ears, we will hear. When you fail we will tell you but we will do it together.”

President Hichilema said he was not a dictator but just wanted to get things done.

“We will be having meetings not at a lodge with farmers, which is what civil servants love doing. We will have meetings like here, put up a tent and discuss the issues as normal business going forward. I went to the Ministry of Health and I saw some social media critics saying the President is micro-managing Ministers. He is disturbing Ministers and he is a dictator. I am not a dictator. I want things done. If there are no medicines in hospitals we must get medicines in hospitals because the patient needs the medicine. I just won’t come to any field day but I want first to use our brains to sit and agree on how we will revolutionise agriculture. Let us work together in partnership from this month,” he said.

“Any challenge that we face, we should resolve together. It is a different way of working that is not dictatorship. If we produce a product and it is not selling and a market is in Angola, that platform will be itemised. HH will travel to Angola to unlock this market so that these goods move. Ukraine [war] is bad for the world and it is bad for us. Fuel has gone up, it means farming costs have gone up, it means we may produce mealie meal which may not be affordable to our poor and also to Congo. The best way of addressing those variables is to increase our capacity to absorb shocks. The global community must work with Zambia to reduce heavy reliance on one source of wheat.”

President Hichilema said specific actions needed to be taken in order to develop the agriculture sector.

“Agriculture sits right in the center of the process of reconstructing the economy. First, it is an opportunity, second jobs and third business opportunities. Opportunities not just for suppliers but farmers. It is a whole range of good things that we said we will expect from the agriculture sector and farmers are critical to this. We want to report that our government has started taking the steps of policies to fundamentally transform agriculture and return it to the better days. We must agree that this is a special country. It is a rarely geographically located country by having eight plus one neighboring countries. Not many countries have that privilege,” he said.

“We must all agree that this country should be the production and processing center. It should be for domestic consumption and export in the region. There is no reason that a Zambian must go to bed without food. You and we are one. We must work together to provide answers. As government we have been looking around to understand the sector, there has never been a structured way of working with farmers and government that would yield agreement on how to resolve challenges. Additionally, on specific actions that should be taken in order to address that which we are doing to develop agriculture.”

President Hichilema said government would formulate a fully fledged agricultural support programme.

“Your government working with you through this instrument will work together to involve closely from the political FISP to an agricultural commercial business driven fully fledged agricultural support programme. Those who had been given the responsibility to take care of fertiliser are the ones who had been stealing it. Unfortunately collaborating with suppliers and sometimes with farmers. Agreeing to sign off goods received notes and confirming that fertiliser is on a particular shelf but there is only air. Your government pays colossal amounts of money to the suppliers but there was collusion. We should deal with that. It takes two to tangle. We will deal with that,” said President Hichilema.

“I have been talking to the Minister that it is not tolerable and it will not continue for us for a farmer who wants to extract water environmentally correct and they have to wait for six to one year to get water rights. That will be put on the table. We want water harvesting to be brought together. We want value addition to be put together. We want to deal with the issue of importing that which we can produce. I was whispering to the Agriculture Minister if we stopped the import of onions. I will not say what his answer was but I told him it was not good enough. If there are goods in transit, we can say in the next 30 days, there will be no onion coming. That is an illustration.”

And Agriculture Minister Mtolo Phiri said the government would never close borders again.

“The success you are seeing here is because of the private sector. I would like to thank the private sector for working with the government so that we can succeed in the agriculture sector. We are open to criticism and we are open to new ideas. We are here as a new government and ours is to make all stakeholders in the agriculture sector happy. The biggest stakeholder is the farmer then we have the others who are the millers, suppliers and all who create the value chain,” said Phiri.

“Our doors are open and if you have a problem come to us we resolve it. We are here for you. Without you, there could be no Ministry of Agriculture. We had a ban on exports and the first thing we did in office was to open up the borders so that whoever produces whatever, can export. We shall never ever close our borders again. It will not happen.”

Meanwhile, Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) president Javis Zimba said the agriculture sector was under attack from several external factors.

“The quest for each farmer who is here today is to try and find answers and address the key challenges being experienced to enable you to stay ahead in the industry. The sector is under attack from several external factors. These include supply chain risks, plant and livestock diseases, hostile micro economic environment, poor price incentives, low productivity, raiding cost of production and certain policies. We are cognizant that this new government is in place which gives farmers a chance for a fresh start to engage and explore new workable ideas,” he said.

“The agriculture sector is under attack from many angles as alluded to earlier, and with serious concerns on rising costs on the market side. We would like to see a situation where government engages in sending market intelligence information to us and address the marketing challenges we face as farmers. Import of agricultural commodities which we can produce locally are killing the Zambian farmers while the farmers in foreign countries blossom. I want you to imagine a country spending $12 million for simple things like onion when that money should have been spent in Zambia. Technocrats allow the farmers to invest. We can also supply.”

Zimba said farmers were in need of a platform where they would be listened to.

“My call to everyone present here today is that we should interrogate every public decision we make which affects the agriculture sector by answering the question ‘how will Zambian farmers benefit from this decision we have made?’ The answer should atleast demonstrate a positive impact. We have onions and potatoes in storage rotting and germinating because of the free flow of imports due to lack of consultation. There are many other cases where farmers are disadvantaged because of government policies. We are hoping that with the new dawn administration, we can work hard to review such policies that are still in place,” said Zimba.

“Farmers are in need of a platform where they will be listened to and find solutions. Government officials do desist from doing business as usual approach as this is an enemy of progress. The knowledge we will acquire from this expo will result in increased production. Therefore a predictable export environment is desirable for this country. My humble advice is that encourage private sector stakeholders to undertake those consultations so that the government is guided by one position agreed by all the players. Government must not receive mixed messages. Farmers are committed and have voices of concern which we hear through the press meaning that they are crying for help.”