Analysis: FELIX TEMBO
WHEN late President Patrick Mwanawasa reintroduced agricultural production subsidies in 2003, many thought we were getting back to the days of ZCF and Lima Bank. Indeed, it improved our maize production and grain security in the country.
Nonetheless, this facility was abused because farmers never used to graduate as was intended when it was put in place.
The same farmers have been receiving the subsidised inputs since then with a few more additions each season.
The hallmark of the programme was when the people managing it started misusing it by having ‘ghost’ farmers. This led to the introduction of a slightly ‘watertight’ system in the name of the e-voucher!
Before I proceed to explain the context I have introduced, allow me to share with you that the wealth of this country does not depend on resources like copper and oil, but it lies with us exploring the potential we have in agriculture, tourism, energy, manufacturing and education.
We have tried with mining but we have failed to leverage on those resources to develop other sustainable sectors.
As we speak today, 90 percent of the wealth in mining lies in the hands of foreigners and foreign companies that keep twisting our hands whenever we ask for what belongs to us.
We should forget about the resources that are found in North-Western Province to develop our country. Our real resources as a country are now in Mkushi, Chisamba, Eastern, Southern, Western provinces, Mpongwe and the potential that lies in Luapula, Muchinga and Northern provinces, including the abundant waterfalls and water bodies.
The population is youthful with over 80 percent unemployed while our education sector is crumbling like never before. However, we can easily turn this around if we become real patriots for our country. What is potential if you cannot realise the real wealth from it?
Agriculture is something that we can do so easily and it has a direct bearing on the health of the nation. Once we defeat hunger, we are halfway into improving the health status of our country.
We are halfway in December and yet many of the farmers have not accessed inputs, either because FRA has not paid them or their cards have not been activated.
When this system was introduced, we all clapped our hands that the late delivery of inputs was a thing of the past.
This is the most efficient way of distributing inputs because the private sector is involved. Government had cut the cost of distributing the inputs because it is no longer physically involved.
Just by introducing this system, over tens of thousands of job prospects were created because the agro-dealers had to make sure that they reduce the last mile concept to the end users. We had seen the creation of community agro-dealers right in the heart of Lundazi, Shangombo and many other farming communities.
This is what we were all asking for because it had reduced the cost of doing business for the farmer. The farmer growing groundnuts in Mtenguleni did not need to cycle 35km to Chipata to buy Stellar star because the community agro-dealer (CAD) has the product. What has perplexed all of us is that we want to move a step backwards when we have leaped two ahead. My advice to the people managing this system is that they should not wait until November of a farming season before activating the cards.
It is now even simple that the budget is presented in October and by December it is passed.
What the Finance minister should do is that he should load these cards at the beginning of the year so that farmers can have a choice of what they want to cultivate or rear. Farming, as we all know, is not about growing maize, soybeans or groundnuts. We have farmers that want to go into fish farming.
They don’t need to wait until December for them to stock their ponds. We have been told about the enormous opportunities for people rearing goats.Do we need to wait until December before they buy the goats? If farming is a business, why do we want to do business only in the rainy season?
To be frank with the authorities, we are mismanaging this very good system of improving our agriculture in our country. There is no country in the world that does not subsidise its economy; it is just the extent which varies.
If we continue on this path, we will NEVER diversify our economy; it is something that will remain on our lips just like we have misused the word ‘potential’. Ministers of Finance, Agriculture, Livestock, Planning and Commerce should sit down and chart the way forward.
This author is an agribusiness practitioner. email@example.com