CATHERINE BWALYA, Choma
PRIDE Malambo is a farmer in Dundumwezi area of Kalomo district, Southern Province, whose desire is to grow his agriculture production.
Mr Malambo is one of the farmers who recorded good crop yields in the 2019/2020 farming season and has so far supplied 500 of 50 kilogramme bags of maize to the Food Reserve Agency (FRA).
This is despite having many potential buyers of maize on the market, some of whom are offer slightly higher prices than FRA.
FRA is offering K110 for a 50kg bag of maize while private buyers are buying the commodity at about K115 – K120 per bag
He now explains his reasons for choosing to sell his grain to FRA.
“I am a very happy farmer because I supplied my maize to the FRA Kasukwe depot a few days ago and I was paid in full within a period of five days. This is good for me because I will be able to start planning and buying inputs for the next farming season on time.
“I had doubts selling my maize to Government because I was looking at the past years when payments were delayed, but I am happy with how things have been done this year,” Mr Malambo says.
Apart from prompt payment by FRA, he opted to sell his grain to the agency after realising that most private buyers were allegedly stealing from unsuspecting farmers by manipulating measuring scales to their advantage.
“I once took some bags of maize to some private buyers just to be sure if they were genuine and their scale indicated that my grain was underweight. I took the same bag of maize to an FRA depot and it weighed over 65 kilogrammes,” he says.
Mr Malambo says farmers who rushed into selling their maize to private buyers in Dundumwezi are regretting after learning that FRA is paying farmers immediately they supply the commodity.
He has pledged to sensitise farmers who still have maize in Dundumwezi to sell it to FRA as they are assured of not only timely payment but are also guaranteed of being paid the correct figures for the amount of maize they supply since FRA scales are calibrated.
In Chikankata district, another farmer, China Ngwele, shares the same sentiments.
“I am a very happy farmer as you see me. I supplied my maize to FRA and my money was paid within a week without any challenges.
“I would want to encourage farmers here to sell their maize to the agency and they will not regret it,” he says.
The FRA has been having challenges buying maize from farmers in Southern Province who are withholding the commodity under the belief that Government wanted to use the grain for political campaigns.
In that vein, Government’s move to up the quantity of maize for strategic reserves from 500,000 metrics tonnes last year to 1000, 000 this year has not been received well in the region.
Some farmers have therefore decided to deny the FRA and give their maize to private buyers.
However, Mr Malambo urged farmers in Southern Province not to be deceived by people with political inclinations who are allegedly discouraging them from selling maize to Government.
Farmers who have supplied maize to FRA in Nyawa chiefdom in Kazungula District are also happy with the prompt payment by the agency.
Rainford Mweene is a depot clerk at FRA Nyawa satellite depot, where 5,401 bags of maize have so far been bought.
Mr Mweene says farmers are pleased with FRA while some are regretting because they sold their maize to briefcase buyers on the assumption that the agency would not pay them on time.
“For some, however, their maize was discoloured by fall armyworms so they are opting to sell to private buyers because those ones do not mind about the kind of maize they are buying, while we as FRA make sure that the discoloured grain is removed,” he says.
United Party for National Development (UPND) Chikankata Malala ward councillor Ian Namakala is among farmers that have supplied maize to FRA and has since been paid.
“I am bringing more bags of maize to FRA and I will take it upon myself to sensitise my people through radio stations and other avenues on why they should sell their maize to FRA and share my story of how quickly I was paid,” he says.
Mr Namakala, who sold 200 bags of maize, remains indebted to FRA for providing food to the people of Chikankata and Southern Province when they were faced with hunger recently by releasing maize for community sales.
He says farmers should show gratitude by selling maize to Government for national strategic reserves.
These developments came to light during FRA executive
director Chola Kafwabulula’s tour of satellite depots in Chikankata, Namwala, Kalomo and Kazungula districts of Southern Province.
Mr Kafwabulula is gratified that farmers who supplied maize to FRA are happy with the timely payment.
He said as of Friday, September 4, 2020, the agency had bought 290,000 metric tonnes of maize countrywide, translating into 5.9 million 50kg bags, and had paid out K638 million to farmers.
This is against the one million metric tonnes of maize that the agency is expected to buy for strategic reserves this marketing season.
Government released K1 billion to FRA to pay farmers as soon as they supplied maize.
“All farmers who have supplied maize to FRA have been paid and we still have some more money, so farmers who are supplying maize to FRA are being paid as and when they supply,” he says.
Mr Kafwabulula assured farmers that payments will not be a problem this year and there will be no delay, hence more should sell maize to FRA to enable it to meet its target.
He says Government is expected to release more money to the agency any time soon and farmers will continue to be paid upon supplying the maize throughout the marketing season.
Mr Kafwabulula, however is not pleased with the pace at which farmers are supplying maize to FRA especially in Eastern and Southern provinces and wants all depot clerks to up their game and sensitise farmers on the importance of selling their maize to the agency.
Southern Province, for example, recorded a bumper harvest of 480,000 metric tonnes of maize in the 2019/2020 farming season, but only about 9,000 metric tonnes has so far been sold to the agency.
“We are facing very stiff competition from private buyers and of course that is expected in a free economy like ours, but we will not just sit back. We will work aggressively and come up with different methods to ensure that we meet our target,” he says.
Among the interventions put in place by FRA to meet its target in the midst of stiff competition from private buyers is the introduction of mobile maize purchasing.
“What we have done to appreciate the change in the way marketing is being done this year is we are conducting mobile purchasing countrywide. So we are following farmers at their respective homesteads.
“Once we get to a particular farm and we find that there is maize, we move on site immediately and set up a depot. We bring our empty grain bags, cotton, scales and all the various marketing requisites to prepare the maize and but it there and then,” Mr Kafwabulula says.
He says the new method of buying maize puts farmers at an advantage because they do not have to spend on transporting their commodity to the FRA depots.
Mr Kafwabulula says FRA is also benefiting from this method by boosting its purchases.
“But I want to report that there are some loyal farmers who have continued supplying maize to FRA. Our major concern is Southern and Eastern provinces in terms of the purchases, but in Northern, Luapula and Muchinga, our purchases have been extremely high,” Mr Kafwabulula says.
The agency brought civic leaders on board to help them sensitise farmers in their areas on the importance of supplying maize to FRA.
He says by selling maize to the agency, farmers are being patriotic to the country.
“Selling maize to FRA will guarantee food security in the country unlike selling it to briefcase buyers, who will be nowhere to be seen in instances where a drought is faced in any part of the country.
“In Southern Province, for example, FRA released a lot of maize in community sales when there was a drought last year and that is why it is important for us to meet our target,” Mr Kafwabulula says.
The FRA boss is optimistic that the agency will buy sufficient stocks of maize before the 2020 marketing season closes in the next two months.
CATHERINE BWALYA, Choma