STEVEN MVULA, Lusaka
THE Food Reserve Agency (FRA) has threatened to take legal action against the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) for allegedly coercing farmers not to sell their maize to the agency.
This is on account of the K60 price at which FRA is buying a 50kg bag of the commodity this year.
Reacting to ZNFU’s continued calls on farmers to withhold their maize on grounds that the K60 price is unprofitable, FRA executive director Chola Kafwabulula said “enough is enough from ZNFU” and it is time to “take them on”.
“FRA considers ZNFU a very important stakeholder and we don’t want to be seen fighting it, but the issues ZNFU has raised cannot go unchallenged. It’s highly defamatory and we cannot allow this to continue anymore,” he said.
In a statement on Wednesday, ZNFU president Jervis Zimba accused FRA of ‘swindling’ farmers by buying maize from them at K60 per 50kg bag of the commodity.
“The FRA executive director’s insistence on maintaining the K60 maize market price clearly demonstrates how us, as farmers, are being swindled in the worst conceivable way by a government insti¬tution.
“The FRA is pegging the price of maize at below the cost of production when it is supposed to balance the prices, both for mealie-meal and maize production. We will borrow a saying, which states that ‘this is total exploitation of man by man’,” Mr Zimba said.
But Mr Kafwabulula has accused ZNFU of flouting the competition and consumer protection law by allegedly coercing and harassing FRA to sell maize at a higher price while at the same time urging farmers to hold on to the commodity.
He said it is not right for ZNFU to urge farmers “not to sell a single grain to FRA”.
“FRA has rights too, why should ZNFU be telling farmers not to sell us their maize? What ZNFU is doing will distort our purchasing power. These are unfair trading practices, market forces must be left to be at play,” Mr Kafwabulula said.
He said FRA is a small player in the maize marketing cycle representing less than 15 percent of the share.
This year, FRA will only buy 14 percent of the 3.6 million metric tonnes of maize while last year it bought 10 percent of the 2.8 million metric tonnes of maize produced.
“We are not a factor, we cannot significantly affect other players. Last year we were beaten at our own game and only bought 10 percent,” he said.
Mr Kafwabulula urged ZNFU to start advising farmers to diversify to other crops rather than merely telling them to “hold on to their maize”.
When contacted for a comment, Mr Zimba said the union will wait for the court summons.
“We will wait for his [Mr Kafwabulula’s] official communication. If a buyer is asking for a good price, is that a case?” Mr Zimba wondered.
He said the best FRA can do is to re-engage ZNFU instead of threatening to take legal action.
“We want a win-win situation. The K60 price is below the cost of production, FRA must not work using emotions,” Mr Zimba said.
Meanwhile, Mr Kafwabulula said FRA has disbursed K54 million to commercial banks countrywide to pay farmers who will supply maize to the agency.