Editor's Comment

Look beyond FRA price

THE K110 price for a 50-kilogramme bag of maize that the Food Reserve Agency has announced is undoubtedly an anti-climax for small-scale farmers, who were expecting an improved offer.
This was after farmers were discouraged from selling their maize and other agricultural produce until the FRA has determined its price.
As disappointing as this may be, the farmers should not be discouraged by the decision by FRA to retain the K110 price for maize, the country’s staple food.
The FRA price, previously known as the floor price, is now merely a guideline for farmers to engage private buyers, who are also out in the field buying maize and other crops.
The farmers can still get better prices from the other buyers if they use their bargaining skills well.
They are not obliged to sell their produce to FRA and they are not obliged to sell their grain at this price to other buyers.
As it were, this is a free market in which the conclusion on price is pegged on ‘willing seller, willing buyer’.
The farmers, especially the smalland mid-scale producers, should also be encouraged by the fact that they were key to Zambia’s production of the current bumper harvest. They can, or should, do it again.
With the FRA buying only about a third of the projected bumper harvest of 3.4 million tonnes, there is still a bulky 2.4 million to sell.
The FRA will do well to prioritise the peasant farmers willing to sell their grain at the pegged price of K110 for a 50kg bag. This should be particularly so for those in the hinterland of the country, because these are usually the ones ‘exploited’ by ‘briefcase’ businesspersons.
Often this group of farmers are left with no choice but to sell their crop at whatever price available because they cannot meet the cost of transporting the grain to depots.
At times, they are also discouraged by delayed payments by FRA.
They would rather have the cash immediately even if this would be at a lower price than what FRA is offering.
President Edgar Lungu has, however, tasked FRA and the Ministry of Finance to ensure that money is available for paying the farmers in good time.
It must be emphasised, therefore, that FRA should have a deliberate policy of buying from the vulnerable farmers as a way of motivating them to continue growing maize and other crops for strategic reserves.
That is where FRA should buy the bulk of the one million metric tonnes for the strategic food reserves.
This is the best way to sustain food security in the outlying areas and for the nation.
Farmers in urban and peri-urban areas have access to markets, so they should not be a priority for FRA.
Apart from FRA, farmers along the line of rail and highways have clients who are private buyers and individuals, including milling companies.
Farmers in urban and peri-urban areas even have the luxury to hoard their produce and offload it in December, January or February when the crops are scarce and get a good price for their commodities.
Farmers in the rural areas, just like their urban counterparts, should also seriously consider diversifying their trade by growing other crops and keeping small animals.
Smallholders stand to benefit from diversification.
For instance, while they will continue cultivating cereals for food security, they could start growing vegetables for good nutrition.
They can also consider other money-making activities by growing crops such as soya beans, sunflower, groundnuts, millet and wheat.
Research has shown that food availability on a household scale increases with farming diversity.
Diversity helps small-scale farmers increase sources of income while certain crops such as legumes, apart from fixing nitrogen in the soil, are nutritious.
In this era of climate change, diversification helps farmers gain something from their enterprises by cultivating drought-resistant crops even when rains are not favourable.
And so as the nation digests the FRA price for maize, those in crop production should think and act beyond producing the staple food.

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