Saturday, November 22nd, 2008


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THE current high mealie meal prices will continue up to 2010 if the Government does not immediately introduce full subsidy on agricultural inputs, the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) has said.

ZNFU president, Jervis Zimba said in Lusaka yesterday that the Government should extend the subsidy on inputs to all farmers in the country to forestall the collapse of the industry and keep maize prices within affordable limits.

Mr Zimba said this during the ZNFU presentation of some of its budgetary proposals to Finance and National Planning Minister, Situmbeko Musokotwane in his office.

Finance Ministry public relations officer Chileshe Kandeta explained that Dr Situmbeko could not immediately respond to the proposals by ZNFU as that would be done in the Budget presentation.

Mr Zimba said the current costs of fertiliser of about K250,000 per 50 kilogrammes bag was too high and would stifle the maize cultivation industry in the country.

He said the high prices were a threat to national food security and affordable mealie meal prices for the next two years.

“The current high mealie meal prices will not be resolved until 2010 unless the Government fully subsidises the cost of fertiliser for small-scale and other farmers,” he said.

He said ZNFU predicted low maize production because up to now there was not much activity in most fields as farmers were discouraged by high input prices.

Currently, he said, the production cost for a 50kg bag of maize was about K68,000 and with the addition of transport, storage and other logistics it would come to K80,000 per bag.

Mr Zimba said the situation was compounded by banks’ failure to lend money to farmers which they could have used to buy inputs.

He said the Government should subsidise production and not consumption.

Mr Zimba said ZNFU was saddened by the Government’s low funding to the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) and the manner in which the Irrigation Development Fund (IDF) was being implemented.

He said the ZNFU had fought for the introduction of the fund and expected farmers to access it directly but it had been taken to the Citizens’ Economic Empowerment Commission (CEEC).

Mr Zimba, however, pledged the ZNFU’s continued support to the Government in national development.

Earlier, Dr Musokotwane said the farming sector had a challenge to always produce more for national food security and beyond for the export market.

“We have to look beyond self-sufficiency in agriculture and produce more even for the export market,” he said.

Dr Musokotwane said the agricultural industry was the engine for the national economy and it should help the Government to continue recording economic gains.

He said the Government would open up more land for development in various parts of the country.

Later, during another meeting with the Zambia Association of Manufacturers (ZAM), Dr Musokotwane said manufacturers should prepare themselves for various investment opportunities but challenged them to adhere to high-class standards.

He said local investors would have chances to invest in special economic zones but should be able to offer high standards in areas such as construction.

He said his team would not divert from the current macro-economic policy, which had proved to be working.

Earlier, ZAM president, Dev Babbar said the Government should effect taxes after production and not before as a way of helping the manufacturing industry.

Mr Babbar said for some time, the ZAM had not been receiving positive response to its budgetary submissions and hoped that next year’s would be positive.

He called on the Government to ensure that ZAM was represented on various boards and that any works with foreign consultants should include a Zambian.


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By Shapi Shacinda

LUSAKA (Reuters) – Zambia will award farm land to foreign investors in 2009 to improve agricultural production and curb food shortages, the country’s finance minister said on Thursday.

Situmbeko Musokotwane said the mineral-rich country would grant foreign and local investors land in farm blocs for them to grow more white maize for export to countries in southern Africa.

Speaking at a meeting convened to familiarize with farmers’ operations, Musokotwane said agriculture provided the best alternative to diversifying the economy away from copper mining, the country’s economic lifeblood.

“We will open up more land to investors in the coming year and more details will be issued at a later stage. There is plenty of room for everybody, we think we should do something in agriculture,” he said.

Zambia created two major farm blocs last year, each over 100,000 hectares in size.

The blocs would be split up for foreign and local farmers to grow cash crops, but the roll-out of the project has been hindered by delays in putting up infrastructure on the sites.

Agriculture industry officials said last week the country would import up to 100,000 tonnes of maize to plug a deficit expected in the first quarter of 2009, after the government lifted a ban on imports of maize.

“In the past few years, Zambia achieved considerable success in food security, but now we want to go beyond food security to exporting,” Musokotwane said.

MAIZE IMPORTS

The newly appointed finance minister’s announcement came as a local farmers’ group warned that Zambia would have to import more maize in 2009 if both commercial and peasant farmers did not receive adequate subsidies to grow enough of the staple white maize.

Zambia National Farmers Union (Znfu) president Jervis Zimba said local farmers were facing difficulties in raising maize output due to soaring costs of fertilizer and seed.

“We are seeing a situation where we will have more imports and the solution is not to subsidize (maize) imports, but production,” he said.

Zimba said the government, which is providing subsidized seed and fertilizers to 200,000 small scale farmers this season up from 125,000 farmers in the 2007/08 season, should extend the programme to commercial farmers as well.

“The major farmers’ concerns are (linked to) the current (global) economic instability. Prices of agricultural inputs are going up while our banks are not lending out to farmers and the season has just started,” Zimba said.

“The best (way) is to ensure complete subsidies for commercial and small scale farmers. We need to look at how the government can help farmers because currently the fields are empty, very few farmers are going to grow maize,” Zimba said.

Zambia’s 2007/08 maize output was reduced to 1.2 million tonnes from 1.3 million the previous season due to floods in some areas.