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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.