Editor's Comment

No more babysitting millers

WE WELCOME the pronouncement by Government that it will stop selling subsidised maize to millers because Zambians are not benefitting from the gesture.
Ministry of Agriculture Permanent Secretary Songowayo Zyambo said despite millers buying cheap maize from the Food Reserve Agency (FRA), they do not relay the benefits to the vulnerable Zambians.
This certainly defeats the whole purpose of subsidising maize to millers.
Government, in a bid to maintain affordable mealie-meal prices, buys maize from farmers every year and resells it to millers at a reduced price.
Millers who access the subsidised maize are expected to maintain low prices of mealie-meal to make it affordable to the general populace.
Sadly, this has not been the case. Millers have proved greedy with an insatiable appetite for more profits.
Even after buying maize at subsidised price, millers have continued to peg the commodity at very high prices, thereby widening their profit margins while denying the poor access.
The poor, who are the intended beneficiaries, have been subjected to hunger due to the unaffordable prices of mealie-meal.
The millers do not seem to care as long as they are making huge profits.
If the millers do not care, Government has every reason to care, because it is within its mandate to improve the livelihoods of the people being governed.
It is, therefore, inevitable that Government discontinues subsidising the millers at the expense of the poor people.
If the benefits of subsidising maize do not reach the intended beneficiaries, who are the consumers, then it is not worth continuing.
With over 60 percent of the population living under the poverty datum line, it is unacceptable for Government to continue subsidising maize sold to millers when it has been established that benefits are not trickling down to the intended beneficiaries.
Given the limited resources against the many competing needs, Government cannot afford the luxury of pampering millers with subsidised maize.
Moreover, the idea was not to make the millers richer but to ensure that no Zambian dies from hunger due to the high price of the staple food.
Since selling subsidised maize to millers has failed to achieve the intended purpose, there is no justification for Government to continue the exercise.
We believe any well-meaning and progressive Zambian will agree with the decision.
It is commendable that Millers Association of Zambia president Andrew Chintala has welcomed the decision to stop selling subsidised maize.
This confirms that even the millers themselves know that the decision to stop selling subsidised maize is for the good of the country.
Instead of making the already rich millers richer, it is good that Government will now concentrate on empowering farmers for them to produce more maize.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture Permanent Secretary, “the long-term solution to mealie-meal prices is increasing maize production. Millers’ dependence on the Food Reserve Agency’s subsidised maize is unsustainable, it cannot go on. We are putting certain measures in place; we will announce what we are doing soon.
“We know some millers who are not buying maize from farmers, they are waiting for the FRA maize, and things will now change. Millers should just go on the market and buy the maize,” he said.
Indeed, let millers buy maize directly from farmers at market value prices since they are purely in business.
This will help Government to concentrate on other areas such as empowering farmers.
For instance, for the 2019/2020 farming season, Government is only supporting 40 districts under the e-voucher programme.
Government certainly needs more resources to support more farmers. Stopping the sale of subsidised maize to rich millers is one way of saving resources so they can be channelled to such needy areas.
As rightly observed by the permanent secretary, the only way to sustainably stabilise mealie-meal prices is through increased production.
There is need to invest in irrigation to increase production both during and off season. Needless to say, the market for maize both locally and regionally is yawning. This is an opportunity worth exploiting.

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