Be patient on prices for inputs

FARMING has over the years attracted interest among Zambians against a backdrop of talk on diversification from copper mining, which is the country’s mainstay of the economy.
While the fortunes in agriculture are looking bright with many interventions in place by Government, the skyrocketing prices of fertilisers are threatening to reduce the gains made so far.
Apparently, maize farming has had a larger share of setbacks as its cultivation by many farmers is now mainly driven by subsidised fertiliser inputs.
Previous governments have tried to solve farmers’ challenges in maize farming by introducing Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP), which is the allocation of subsidised seed and fertiliser packages to individual farmers.
But this programme has had teething problems as the number of beneficiaries has over the years increased.
At one time the number of beneficiaries had to be audited because it was discovered that many of those who benefitted from FISP were not in the category of vulnerable groups.
Politics in farm inputs has worsened the situation and pushed the price of fertiliser way beyond the average farmer in rural areas.
It is on this premise that United Party for National Development (UPND) promised during its political campaigns to reduce the cost of fertiliser if it came into power.
Today, UPND is in power and farmers are demanding an immediate reduction of fertiliser prices.
The demands of fertiliser price reduction are among other calls on Government to fulfil its promises.
Genuine as the demands of fertiliser price reduction may be, it is too early to expect instant adjustments.
The suggestion by Minister of Agriculture Reuben Phiri that farmers will have to exercise a bit of patience before they can start accessing farming inputs at a cheaper price from the new dawn government is realistic given the current status on farm input distribution.
Farmers should be patient on price reduction of inputs although this has been a contentious issue even when the country experienced mealie meal price hikes when Patriotic Front was in government.
The high price of inputs has also pushed up the prices of mealie meal, resulting in many people being unable to buy the staple food.
However, any attempt to reduce the prices of fertiliser now when the input distribution exercise is almost starting will throw the entire programme into disarray and affect farmers’ cultivation timetable.
It is understandable that over the years farmers have gotten used to farming using chemical fertiliser but it is high time they started using other methods, like organic farming.
This system of farming will help farmers maintain the soil nutrients in their fields by using animal waste, which can be obtained cheaply or at no cost at all.
Chemical fertiliser depletes soil nutrients because of over-dependence on the input especially for maize farming.
While this chemical fertiliser increases yields, it has had the decreasing effect on many farmers’ incomes because they spend a lot of money on buying fertilisers each season.
Conservation farming is another system which can help in maintaining soil nutrients because it promotes minimal disturbance of the soil during cultivation.
These methods may look like time-consuming and primitive but they are a sure way of reducing dependence on fertiliser given the ever increasing prices of the input.
Government’s intervention in price cut on fertiliser may be one way to keep the yields high but the New Dawn government needs to be given a bit of time to study the matter especially that the Cabinet is barely a month in office.
Undeniably, there is little the new government can do to reduce the price of farming inputs under FISP for 2021-2022 farming season.
We urge the farmers to be patient at least for this season because Government has to look into the matter systematically.