CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka
THE bullies of the airwaves who have perfected the art of humiliating guests who do not support their preferred political party during live phone-in programmes on the privately-owned Radio Phoenix met their match last Friday.
The hero of Fridayâ€™s live programme was Minister of Agriculture Given Lubinda, who check-mated the railing cadres with his sober, well-researched answers on local and global issues surrounding agriculture and food security.
The cadres had expected to embarrass him with their unintelligible rants in pathetic English, as they have been doing others, but the soft-spoken minister ably roused them out of their dreamland and dragged them back into the real world with hard facts.
This was during the Let the People Talk live programme.
Mr Lubinda schooled the sponsored and clearly ill-informed callers on the simple law of demand and supply, explaining in the simplest of English why the demand for Zambian maize and its products has shot through the roof in the last one year.
He assured Zambians that the prices of their beloved mealie meal will come down as the country continues to increase production and explore other food exports such as soya beans and wheat.
The minister explained that the cost of inputs and sometimes the law of supply and demand will always influence the price of maize and mealie meal.
â€œThe regional deficit is 15 million metric tonnes and Zambia has only 2.8 million metric tonnes of maize,â€ Mr Lubinda said.
The Patriotic Front (PFâ€™s)â€™s tested parliamentary candidate for Kabwata proudly informed the smarting hecklers that Zambia has become a net exporter of wheat and soya beans as a result of a combination of Governmentâ€™s supportive policies and the farmersâ€™ dedication.
He said the government is supporting and encouraging farmers who cannot harvest between four and five tonnes per hectare to diversify to other crops such as cassava to reduce the cost of production.
With confidence, he announced that the countryâ€™s production of mealie meal has reached 25 percent above the local demand and that the government is encouraging those with permits for maize exports to also export mealie meal, which is a finished product.
He invited investors in food processing who can export finished maize products such as cornflakes instead of unprocessed grain.
This way, Mr Lubinda said, the country will earn more from value addition.
Mr Lubinda said despite the opposition callersâ€™ ravings about the high cost of mealie meal in Zambia, the reality is that the country is better off than most other Southern African countries.
He informed one â€˜ignorantâ€™ caller that the commodity is fetching less than K100 in Zambia but costing an equivalent of up to K400 in other countries in the region.
â€œPresident Lungu is the only president who has shown a practical aspiration to make agriculture a money earner the way copper is, and the more we produce, the cheaper the food will become,â€ he lectured.
Mr Lubinda could afford to speak with the confidence with which he did.
In the last four years, agriculture has leap-frogged many other sectors to become a major money earner and job creator, and is part of the basis on which President Lungu and the PF are seeking another five-year term of office from Zambians on August 11.
Addressing a huge rally at National Heroes Stadium in Lusaka as he launched the PFâ€™s campaign and the ruling partyâ€™s revised 2016-2021 manifesto in May, President Lungu declared:
â€œNshapose nenshita iyoo [I will not waste time], I want to tell you that filya fine tulekontolola dollar, nomutengo wabunga twalakontolola [I want to assure you that the way we are addressing the exchange rate, that is the way we will also bring down the price of mealie meal].â€
The President said as the first step towards achieving that objective, the PF government has managed to curb the rampant smuggling of maize and mealie meal.
Opposition political parties had tried to use the scourge to incite Zambians into voting out the PF, but the crusade faded into a lost cause.
President Lungu told the 180,000-strong crowd that the government has come up with the revolutionary programme of spreading 2,000 solar-powered milling plants across the country to be operated by cooperatives, which has already seen prices of mealie meal drop to as low as K50 from K80 and K90 where the equipment is operational.
â€œDespite the poor rains, we have been able to increase maize production from 2.6 million metric tonnes last year to 2.8 million metric tonnes this year,â€ President Lungu said and thanked God for responding to the nationâ€™s prayers.
Zambiaâ€™s annual national consumption was slightly above 1,500,000 metric tonnes by the end of 2015.
One of the drivers of this sterling performance is the globally applauded Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) under which the government has been providing small-scale farmers with subsidised inputs.
The intervention has â€˜rescuedâ€™ hundreds of thousands of vulnerable but viable farming households from extreme poverty.
â€œWe have increased the number of beneficiaries under FISP to one million small-scale farmers. We have extended the crop coverage of this programme from maize only to include sorghum, rice, groundnuts, beans and sunflower,â€ Mr Lungu told the appreciative nation.
He spoke glowingly about the e-voucher system which is targeted at 241,000 beneficiaries and extended the input support to livestock.
And to reward the countysâ€™ gallant farmers and encourage them to work even harder, the President has this year increased the floor price of maize from K75 to K85 for a 50 kilogramme bag of maize.
This will no doubt put more money in the pockets of the small-scale farmers.
To crown it all, the PF government has increased the threshold of the maize the Food Reserve Agency will buy from farmers from about 600,000 metric tonnes last season to one million metric tonnes as strategic reserves for emergencies.
This has elated the Zambia Cooperative Federation, which is enjoying an elevated status following President Lunguâ€™s decision to give the cooperative movement a bigger role in the sector.
Based on this laudable record, the PF is assuring Zambians of more days of plenty if they vote for President Lungu and the ruling partyâ€™s candidates on August 11.
CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka