Editor's Comment

Millers should avoid dependence on FRA

MAIZE

THE directive by Government to the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) to offload 35,000 metric tonnes of maize to the market is commendable, but it also serves as a red flag for those tasked to ensure that the staple food is always readily available.
On Friday Copperbelt Minister Japhen Mwakalombe said millers approached his office and President Edgar Lungu to intervene so that hunger is averted because of some perceived maize shortage in the province.
The directive by the minister is coming barely a month after the crop-marketing season closed.
The crop-marketing season presents an excellent opportunity for all players in the sector to secure maize stocks for future use.
One of the biggest players is the Food Reserve Agency (FRA), whose mandate is to ensure the national food security target is met.
However, there are more players who have to complete the cycle of maize marketing and among them are the millers who use the maize as their main product in the conduct of their commercial business.
And it is on these players that we have some concerns about their involvement in maize buying.
With the K70 maize price for this year, the other players in the sector had enough opportunity to purchase maize, going by the reluctance of most farmers to sell to FRA.
It is a known fact at the last count, the FRA only purchased 172,000 metric tonnes of maize out of the projected 500,000 metric tonnes, though there were other stocks in reserve.
The liberalised maize market means more players had better chances to buy more of the commodity because of the higher price they could have been offering, as demanded by the farmers.
And this is why small-scale businessmen tend to take advantage by buying at a slightly higher price.
As private sector players, millers also have an opportunity to buy the maize on the open market once the price is announced because we expect them to offer a higher price than FRA.
In fact, at the end of last month, Minister of Agriculture Michael Katambo encouraged the private sectors players such as millers and grain traders to buy the commodity from the open market.
He said the FRA should be the last resort for the players to buy maize from.
While there is an assurance by Mr Mwakalombe that the release of the maize does not mean the province is not food-secure, the request for the release of the maize is coming too soon after the closure of the marketing season.
An indication from the millers, according to Millers Association of Zambia president Andrew Chintala, is that his members had little or no stock and this is what prompted them to ask Government to release the maize on the market.
The current dynamics on the market dictate that the best price attracts the sellers, in this case the farmers, and we do not want to conclude that the millers found themselves in this situation because they did not offer a better price.
Unlike Government, which has a number of competing needs, millers are in a better position to offer a higher price.
Let us remember that FRA is the last resort, as Mr Katambo said, so that the country is able to avert a food shortage at the right time.
And in view of this, the FRA should be cautious about how much maize is released so that the food in stock is preserved for release at the right time.
We also urge the millers, in future, to learn to stand on their own and avoid dependence on the FRA so that our nation is food-secure as intended by Government.

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