ALVIN CHIINGA, Lusaka
WHEN the Presidential Milling Initiative was rolled out in 2015, the objectives were clear; to help reduce mealie-meal prices and create jobs.
Two years down the line, the project is on.
However, a few challenges have been encountered along the way by the Zambia Cooperative Federation (ZCF), which is im-plementing the initiative on behalf of Government.
In the whole scheme, a total of 2,000 solar milling plants are to be installed at a cost of US$200 million.
Further, the project includes the construction of eight service and training centres to be located in Chongwe, Choma, Chipata, Kalulushi, Kasama, Mufumbwe, Mongu and Serenje districts.
It is envisaged that the solar milling plants, which are being installed countrywide, will by and large reduce poverty.
The solar milling plants will not only provide affordable mealie-meal but will also provide a ready market to small- scale farmers across the country.
In the first quarter of 2016, President Lungu, who is the mastermind of the initiative, led by example through the commis-sioning a solar-powered milling plant at Kambazhi in Solwezi, North-Western Province.
This commissioning, like any other elsewhere, was aimed at reducing the prices of mealie-meal which had sky rocketed in some cases to astronomical figures.
But in places where the milling plants were already operational then, prices of mealie-meal had reduced by half, fetching be-tween K50 and K55 compared to other millers who were selling the commodity between K80 and K120.
President Lungu said he was convinced after seeing the results in the places where the milling plants were already working that the cooperatives were the right way to go because they were sustainable.
The solar milling plants being run by ZCF are better placed to tackle poverty among the people because they are community based enterprises spread through-out the country up to village level.
The reduction of mealie-meal prices by more than 50 percent and empowerment of community members in the areas where the plants are operational is what is making this initiative a welcome one.
In some parts of Kasama and Chipata districts, mealie-meal prices had reduced to as low as K45 per 25 kilogramme bag during 2016 from K100 which was being offered by other millers.
In other areas where there is a lot of maize production, mealie-meal prices will be much lower, ZCF director general, James Chirwa said then.
Mr Chirwa also says once the project is completed and production of maize continues to rise, it is expected that there will be a further reduction in the prices of the mealie-meal to as low as K30 to K35.
It is not only in Northern Province alone where the reduction of prices of mealie-meal has been witnessed but in other provinc-es as well such as North-Western, Lusaka and Eastern Copperbelt, Central, Muchinga and Southern provinces.
This trend has continued in all the provinces where the milling plants are being installed much to the delight of the people.
A week ago, 75 out of the 165 solar milling plants allocated to the Copperbelt under the initiative were commissioned.
It further meant that prices of mealie-meal in the areas where the milling plants were commissioned had also started reducing.
Copperbelt Minister, Bowman Lusambo said Government through ZCF has spent over K10 million to install 165 milling plants and one modern service and training centre in Kalulushi.
“The milling plants will help reduce mealie-meal prices in the country, create jobs among youths and also empower farmers across the country. And 255 youths have been trained to operate the plants in Copperbelt Province,” Mr Lusambo said at a ceremony in Kalulushi.
Mr Chirwa is upbeat and says the continued commissioning of the plants countrywide is another milestone as President Lungu continues to develop the nation.
As of mid-2017, over 2,600 direct jobs had been created after the installation of 459 out of the 2,000 solar milling plants around the country.
In an update then, Mr Chirwa said the installation of the 2,000 milling plants would now be completed in the second quarter of this year due to some challenges which ZCF faced in 2016.
Mr Chirwa said apart from the 2,636 direct jobs that have been created, an additional 1,000 indirect jobs have also been created from the construction and installation of the solar milling plants.
“A total of 951 out of the 2,000 milling plants have so far been installed in different parts of the country which include South-ern, Lusaka, Central, Eastern, North-Western, Copperbelt, Luapula, Muchinga and Northern provinces,” he said.
He said that this includes 1008 milling houses which have been installed while 1107 housing slabs have been completed coun-trywide as at the end of last year.
Mr Chirwa says installation of the milling plants delayed because of the challenges encountered in the process of securing the loan.
“This is what adversely affected the installation of these milling plants,” he said. “There was a stop for about nine months start-ing in July last year (2016), we only resumed this year (2017) in January.”
However, Mr Chirwa says over 1,000 parts for milling plants are already in the country awaiting installation, while 640 slabs have also been erected so far in readiness for installation.
He says once all the 2,000 milling plants are installed, the benefits of reduced prices of mealie-meal will be felt by many.
Mr Chirwa says in some areas where the milling plants are operational, mealie-meal prices are going between K50 and K65 for a 25 kg bag.
He says ZCF needs to be commended for the project especially that there has not been any operational funds given to them.
“We have used our own initiative to supervise this presidential solar milling plants project,” he says. “So one can imagine the difficulties we have been facing. So far so good, we are geared to face 2018 with seriousness and commitment to work.”
The Presidential Milling Initiative stands out to be one of the projects that will tremendosuly help small scale farmers in the country.