Columnists Features

Agricultural marketing, input distribution


THE call made by Zambia Co-operative Federation (ZCF) director general James Chirwa regarding agricultural marketing where “small-scale farmers’ cries of exploitation is of their own making as some farmers continue opting to sell their maize individually as opposed to using well-established cooperative structures in their respective districts” is a well thought warning (Stuart Lisulo) dated August 11, 2015.
To many who do not know the co-operative movement structure is a brilliant advice but it is centred on ZCF itself to support the primary co-operative societies who affiliate through the district cooperative unions.
Farmers sell out of a desperate situation, lack of value addition concept and lack of an established grain marketing body to facilitate agricultural marketing in Zambia, which is people-driven and ZCF must champion this cause instead of marginalising the farming community.
You should know that cooperatives are often born from difficulty situations, unstable markets, social conflicts and stagnant production without value addition.
For sure, the cooperative movement structures are available, which are rendered itself toothless and impotent due to lack of viable income-generating activities and poor financial base.
The ZCF should not merely speculate but buy maize from the farming community as they wait for the presidential milling plants to be installed. The fate of our farmers year after year has been and is exploitation by the private buyers offering lower prices ranging from K50 to K67 per 50kg bag of maize.
It is clear that if ZCF is not buying maize now, how is it going to sustain the plants? At least the Zambia National Service (ZNS) and Zambia Prisons Service (ZPS) have farms to fall on. ZCF should focus on building the capacity of the general membership who are actually the true owners of cooperatives and the cooperators are at the same time farmers who deserve respect.
Come up with schemes that are affiliate driven programmes as the statistics show that the total membership countrywide is about two million co-operators. Some of the objective of the scheme could be to create self-sustenance through member contribution.
This will create a dependable marketing system for the membership and act as platform for the co-operative movement development. In this case ZCF can use the numbers to source funds from the membership and lobby from co-operating partners but should go back to the drawing table to prove its viability.
History is very clear about agricultural marketing and input distribution is state driven and any move now to change the status quo is a sore in the flesh for the farming community.
The belief of farmers alike is for the government to set the floor price which has never worked in their favour and even if the government announces the floor price now, nothing will change given that the Agriculture and Livestock Minister Given Lubinda stated the government position to allow the market forces dictate the prices.
So ZCF like any other business should complement government efforts in ensuring that the farmers are given better consideration when it comes to servicing them and the cooperative movement is well placed because of the principle of the concern for the community.
You should be aware that the primary cooperative societies are the major drivers and contributors to the food basket and the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) despite severe challenges of late delivery of inputs, marketing problems, exploitation, poor infrastructure like feeder roads though a number them have been worked on and poor methods of farming used by farmers.
In the light of these challenges there is massive development potential in rural areas given the 42 million hectares of land suitable for growing high value crops, fish and livestock in Zambia.
The creation and successful functioning of the cooperative movement can bring about productivity enabling the coordination and management of the vital steps needed in order to actualize dormant rural development potential in harvesting their crops like maize, groundnuts, cassava, cotton, tobacco, rice and many other crops where ZCF, Zambia National Farmers Union and the National Union of Small-scale Farmers of Zambia must take a lead.
Frequently briefcase buyers migrate from urban areas to rural areas where the poor farmers have been the victims of unfair trading by the private sector or the traders from the urban areas. For rural farming families, for example in the valley regions and remote parts of Zambia are still stranded with maize produce while the global prices for the crops grown have doubled over the recent years.
The revenue base for farmers has remained basically the same because of the operational costs and lack of value addition philosophy. The farming community need a complete mind-set change that demand forming strong cartels instead of the individualistic approach as echoed by ZCF director general James Chirwa.
Too often people in rural areas live in villages where families, clans and entire communities live side by side within an area which usually make it easy to coordinate their efforts and foster cooperation.
In practical terms, the systems of agricultural production and upkeep, integrate vital traditional skills and knowledge towards socioeconomic development like food processing.
The nature of ventures may not necessarily be directed towards optimisation of quantity but to provide survival means and the most elementary things of life probably centred on food security. Therefore the intervention by government in empowering primary cooperative societies with solar propelled hammer mills which are yet to come should not slip off your hands.
However, with population growth, rising prices and globalisation this production status quo leaves rural areas lagging behind urban folks, making total rural poverty deeper and the divide with towns due to lack of industries to process their products like maize, groundnuts and soybeans at block or district level.
The Revised-Sixth National Development Plan (R-SNDP 2013) spells the rural industrialisation strategy in the agricultural sector as a means to sustain the farming community.
Currently the farmers are stranded with their produce countrywide and it is taking long for Food Reserve Agency (FRA) to start buying the proposed 500,000 metric tons of various agricultural produce like maize, sorghum, rice and beans. The government floor prices were merely your starting point for bargaining with potential buyers yet it never helped matters.
The majority farmers are not aware that farming is a business and marketing starts before the actual production. However, farmers should not allow the private buyers to determine the price as they are obligated to fix prices themselves and the extension workers can help to teach farmers in capacity building on entrepreneurship and marketing strategies as market linkages are being developed.
The Government should make sure that the feeder roads are rehabilitated before the onset of the marketing season and input distribution and in exceptional cases farmers need to take the initiative to repair the roads leading to productive areas using local resources available in order to enhance business activities. You can take a leaf from Côte d’Ivoire where cooperatives invested USD 26
Million into setting up schools, building rural roads and establishing maternal clinics in 2002 according to ICA, Briefing for NGOs on the Work of the Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health Cluster, 2004.
The co-operative movement should begin to map out strategies of how to establish a fertilizer plant that can complement government efforts more especially urea production which delay to reach the farming community. India has made a steady progress towards this through a cooperative called the Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative Limited (IFFCO) which is among the top ten best cooperatives in the world.
ZCF should look beyond government support and embrace the general membership in the mainstream development.
Surely, cooperatives must remain unambiguously and always the property of the people. The basis for unlocking hidden potential is essentially rooted in personal empowerment and elevated levels of economic democracy that allows people’s participation and decision-making.
Moreover, the ability of cooperative members to invest a portion of their new revenue in other human development projects will vastly change their quality of life like having clean drinking water, school building, grain management, women and youth initiatives and any other priority needs identified of the establishing processing industries.
There is need for the cooperative movement to come up with a more radical and private-driven grain marketing body and input management think-tank to reduce the burden of government financing such programmes.
A well-coordinated marketing system with strong warehousing, financial institutions, processing industries and the farmers producing the grain must co-exist in order to remove the middlemen in the value chain system within the cooperative set-up.
This will in turn profit the farming community hence higher productivity as the farmers remain as producers with producer cooperatives, farmers work with transport cooperatives to easy their transportation burden to the markets, farmers should have value-addition processing cooperatives(ZCF,ZPS,ZNS) the milling plants to be installed soon.
The value chain system should have retail outlets to sell processed products to the final consumers. This is why the Presidential milling initiative is aimed at promoting value-addition along the agricultural value chain and must be supported as the government has come out clearly on enhancing cooperative development.
Surely as the primary cooperative societies await solar propelled hammer mill, ZCF should state the conditionality’s surrounding accessibility, application forms and the actual loan package for the hammer mills if any.
While government has made its position clear on agricultural marketing, there is need to consider the plight of the vulnerable farmers in remote parts of Zambia as the private take a leading role.
The author is district accountant for Chingola

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