ALVIN CHIINGA, Kasama
IT WAS almost mid-day in Luwingu districtâ€™s Lubansenshi Constituency. A convoy of vehicles from the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) snaked its way through the rugged terrain of what villagers call a road in this northern part of the country.
And all of a sudden, the convoy came to a stop at one of the FRA satellite depot called Kapanda.
A female voice from the depot could be heard calling out names of farmers whose money was ready for the maize they sold to FRA this crop marketing season.
Filled with disbelief, a middle-aged man stepped up as his name was called to go and get his money from Cavmont Bankâ€™s Kasama branch merely three days after he had delivered his maize.
â€œI cannot believe this, I just brought my maize here to sell three days ago and today [September 4, 2015] I am supposed to go and get my money?â€ John Mulenga said.
Mr Mulenga, who is a small-scale farmer from Luwingu, could not hide his excitement. He said it was the first time FRA had paid him on time and that he would have no problem paying for his childrenâ€™s school fees.
Another farmer, Michael Chilando, leapt excitedly after his name was called out.
Mr Chilando, who had sold 289 bags of maize to the FRA for K21,675 could not hide his happiness after he was told that his money was ready for collection at the bank.
â€œI did not think that the money would be ready this early,â€ he said.
These are the stories that greeted FRA executive director Chola Kafwabulula when he toured Northern Province to monitor this yearâ€™s crop marketing.
Mr Kafwabululaâ€™s first stop on the tour was Kasama where he met Northern Province permanent secretary Hlobotha Nkunika.
The FRA boss told the permanent secretary that a total of K96 million had by Monday August 31, 2015 been disbursed to banks countrywide and that farmers were now able to receive payments for their produce.
In an effort to reduce wastage of the grain, Mr Kafwabulula said FRA had already signed a contract worth K73 million for the construction of 98 storage sheds countrywide.
He said in Northern Province, Mbala will have three sheds with a capacity of 5,000 tonnes each. Kasama will have four sheds with capacity of 5,000 tonnes each. Luwingu will have one shed with a capacity of 3,000 tonnes.
According to Mr Kafwabulula, Mungwi will have one shed as well with a capacity of 5,000.
Kaputa and Mporokoso will have one shed each with a capacity of 1,000.
FRA will also build one silo in Kasama with a storage capacity of 25,000 tonnes.
In his continued tour of duty, one aspect that came out prominent as one of the barriers to smooth crop marketing was poor roads in the province.
Though some of the roads have been tarred through the Link Zambia 8000 project, many feeder roads that lead to productive areas are in a deplorable state.
This is making it difficult for farmers to transport their maize to nearby depots where they usually sell their produce to FRA.
In Lubansenshi at a bridge called Chasacha across the Lubansenshi River in Malekani area, both the road and the bridge are in a deplorable state, hence the late opening of the FRA satellite depot in the area.
â€œI have opened this depot [Malekani] today simply because I have been assured that this bridge will be passable in the next two weeks,â€ Mr Kafwabulula said.
A tour of some satellite depots in Mbala district revealed that some foreign traders were exploiting small-scale farmers near the Kasesha border post by buying their maize at a low prices compared to FRAâ€™s floor price of K75 for 50 kilogrammes of maize.
However, Mr Kafwabulula was quick to say that farmers countrywide are supposed to negotiate a fair prices for their maize if they are to realise a profit.
By the time of the tour farmers living near the border had ran out of maize stocks to sell to FRA as they had already sold the grain to the foreign traders.
â€œThe businessmen came in and farmers who wanted fast money sold their maize to them and they took it to their country. We hear that they have a good market in Burundi and Kenya for the same maize,â€ a resident, Joseph Isanga, said.
However, Mr Kafwabulula said the farmers were at liberty to sell their maize anywhere because this country has a liberalised economy.
â€œWe cannot dictate to the farmers where they should sell their maize as they are at liberty to do so,â€ he said.
As the tour of duty of Northern Province by Mr Kafwabulula was coming to an end in Mbala district, what came out clear was the fact that most small-scale farmers were elated over the prompt payments by FRA.
Most of those found at satellite depots visited in Kasama, Luwingu, Mporokoso and Mbala districts commended government through FRA for paying them in time.
However, one outstanding matter raised by the farmers was the fears of what will happen to their maize after FRA has bought the targeted 500,000 tonnes.
The farmers fear exploitation from opportunistic traders who may take advantage of the situation.
ALVIN CHIINGA, Kasama