Provide decent market for farmers

THE newly-appointed Food Reserve Agency (FRA) board has been directed to put in place a mechanism that will provide a ready market for small-scale farmers and offer them an attractive maize buying price.
This is an important and timely call which the new board should attend to expeditiously.
Small-scale farmers, besides being the major producers of food in Zambia, have continued to be the poorest, yet, statistics show that these poor small-scale formers in Zambia contribute about 80 percent of the food produced in the country.
Despite these farmers working so hard to produce crops, especially food crops, many do not get value for their produce. One of the reasons is lack of access to the right market.
Many of these farmers live in far-flung rural areas without proper road infrastructure. Even in cases where there are reasonably good roads, transportation of produce to the market is unaffordable for many.
This leaves many of these farmers with no choice but to settle for offers made by briefcase businessmen who have mastered the skill of reaping where they did not sow.
These briefcase businessmen also take advantage of the desperation of farmers for cash.
By harvest time, most farmers, particularly those who solely depend on seasonal farming for their livelihood, would so desperately be in need of cash to sort out a myriad of challenges.
Many farmers are eager to sell their produce to raise money for school fees, other foods and other basic necessities.
Out of desperation, many farmers end up accepting any offer. While there are some private buyers who offer lucrative prices, there are also others who literally buy produce for a song especially before the marketing season is officially launched.
This is why Minister of Agriculture Michael Katambo is urging the board to not only provide a ready market but to offer farmers a competitive price for maize and other produce.
FRA, as a government institution, must set a good example by offering farmers value for money.
Last marketing season, FRA offered farmers K110 per 50kg. Unfortunately this was lower than what some private buyers were offering.
It is hoped this marketing season Government will raise the bar by offering farmers a lot more.
This way, farmers will not fall prey to the private buyer. And most importantly a competitive price will ensure FRA secures enough food in its reserves.
In the recent past, FRA has struggled to meet the targeted maize purchase because farmers prefer to sell their maize to private buyers who offered a better deal. Besides the price, farmers also opted for private buyers because payment was instant.
FRA should devise a win-win strategy – a strategy that will allow the agency to sufficiently stock the reserves while giving farmers value for money.
The agency has done relatively well in setting outlets in various parts of the country to ease supply of the crop. This should continue, if not be stepped up, so that farmers do not incur the cost of transportation.
We have also seen considerable improvement in the time it takes to pay the farmers.  The Ministry of Finance is urged to release money quicker to FRA so that it in turn improves in the time it takes to pay the farmers.
We are hopeful that the new board will live up to Government’s expectations and guide FRA into being the buyer that farmers will clamour for.