Editor's Comment

Millers should keep away from FRA

MAIZE

THE Food Reserve Agency (FRA) shoulders the responsibility of ensuring food security in Zambia.
Established under the Food Reserve Act of April 1995, FRA is charged with the responsibility to efficiently manage sustainable national strategic food reserves, ensuring national food security and income through the provision of complementary and high-quality marketing and storage services.
Every marketing year, FRA buys a certain amount of maize, among other crops, from farmers as a way of ensuring food security.
FRA is only expected to offload this maize onto the market when the country is faced with severe shortages of the commodity.
FRA usually sells this maize to millers at a subsidised price in order to stabilise mealie meal prices on the market for the benefit of consumers.
For the 2016/2017 farming season, Zambia recorded a bumper harvest of 3.6 million metric tonnes of maize.
Of the total harvest, FRA bought 500,000 tonnes for strategic reserves while the 3.1 million was bought by the private sector.
It is surprising, therefore, that a few months down the line, millers are demanding that FRA unlock its reserves and offload the maize onto the market.
The millers contend that if they buy the maize grain at lower prices, then the price of the mealie meal they produce would be cheaper. That is not the essence of food reserves. This sounds like arm-twisting tactics to compel Government to offload cheaper maize into their hands.
We do not believe that the 3.1 million metric tonnes has already been wiped out of the market, especially that there are no maize exports apart from on government-to-government deals.
There is no justification for FRA to offload maize from its food reserve as at now.
Government is therefore justified by standing its ground and stating that FRA will not be pressured into selling maize to millers.
This is risky given that the maize in its custody is strictly meant for the country’s strategic reserves.
It will be irresponsible of FRA to release maize from its strategic reserve when the commodity is still available on the market.
We therefore support the stance taken by Government that, for now, it will not be arm-twisted into releasing the staple food.
Minister of Agriculture Michael Katambo said millers can buy maize at competitive prices through Zambia Agricultural Commodities Exchange (ZAMACE).
“Millers should not put Government under pressure. It is not true that there is not enough maize out there or that mealie meal prices are sky-rocketing,” Mr Katambo said.
Is it by coincidence that the Zambia National Farmers Union shares the same view?
This is an organisation that deals directly with the producers of the commodity.
Why are millers avoiding buying maize from farmers?
Millers should just be sincere enough and buy maize through the readily available platform – ZAMACE. FRA should be the last resort under justifiable circumstances.
As for now, there is no compelling reason to empty the country’s strategic reserves.
It is good that the ministry is currently undertaking a crop forecast survey. Until the results are out, it will be unwise for FRA to release maize.

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