THE announcement by the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) that it will not extend the marketing season when it ends next month should be taken seriously by all stakeholders.
These stakeholders are not only the small-scale farmers who are being encouraged to sell their maize grain to the agency before close of the marketing season on October 31.
This announcement should draw the attention of other stakeholders such as millers and other buyers such as brewers, animal feed producers and traders who are targeting the foreign market.
The FRA’s target for this season is 500,000 tonnes of maize which is for strategic reserves.
With Zambia producing 3.6 million tonnes of the staple food, the farmers should be proactive in the sale of their produce.
Although most farmers are disappointed with the FRA’s offer of K60 for a 50kg bag of maize, they have to quickly make a decision now or regret later.
If they are certain that they can get a better price from other buyers then, of course, they may seek out these buyers. But if these other buyers are already offering less than the K60 that FRA is buying the grain at, then the farmers have a Hobson’s Choice.
Indications are that many other buyers are not offering more than what the FRA is paying and so the farmers don’t have much of a choice.
As FRA executive director Chola Kafwabulula has said, farmers still keeping their maize at home hoping for a change in the price of the commodity risk losing out because FRA has no immediate plans of adjusting the price.
That said though, the FRA will not buy all the maize that the farmers have produced. With a target of 500,000 metric tonnes, there will be hundreds of thousands of metric tonnes still in the hands of the farmers.
This is where the other stakeholders come in. The millers and brewers, for instance, have to step forward and offer the farmers attractive prices.
All stakeholders should support the farmer without whom their operations could be as good as dead.
The FRA stated at the beginning of the marketing season that it will no longer sell grain to millers because the agency expects that these mealie meal producers will buy their own stock.
The FRA will, however, sell maize to institutions such as the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit for distribution to needy people.
The FRA will also supply the Ministry of General Education to support the home-grown school feeding programme, correctional facilities and hospitals, among many that deserve subsidised maize.
We therefore encourage millers, breweries and other grain traders to supplement the efforts of the FRA by buying maize from these hardworking farmers.
Previously, Government bought most of the maize and this made FRA become a monopoly.
This shut out other economic players and limited prospects for equitable wealth and income distribution in the maize marketing chain.
Participation of private players in the maize sector holds the key to Zambia to diversify the economy, which has previously been copper dependent.
When more private players take part in maize marketing, including buying of other crops such as rice, soyabeans and cotton, there will be more opportunities for agricultural growth, diversification and employment creation.
Farmers should be resolute in negotiating for the price of maize from private buyers so that they can recoup their costs.
Failing to sell to FRA should not discourage them, rather empower them to enter the market with zeal.
The experience they gain this year will help the farmers going forward.
Not selling to FRA is not the end of the world but the beginning of looking outside the box.
Let us support and encourage farmers to grow more maize in the forthcoming season so that the country continues to be self-reliant.
Zambia’s economic future will depend on diversification of the economy by identifying more opportunities in the agro sector for production and export.