ZAMBIA – The Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) has expressed its dissatisfaction with the pricing strategy adopted by the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) for purchasing maize from farmers, amid ongoing challenges posed by the El Niño-induced drought.

The criticism follows FRA’s released press statement on maize prices for the current season.

The ZNFU has acknowledged the early entry of the FRA into the crop market, providing farmers with an additional buyer for their produce.

However, the Union has raised alarm over the pricing discrepancies between FRA and private buyers, citing concerns about its competitiveness and potential consequences for the nation’s food security.

Zambia has been suffering from severe drought due to the El Nino phenomenon, which is worsening harsh weather conditions attributed in part to climate change.

In February, President Hakainde Hichilema declared the drought a national disaster highlighting that it has adversely impacted the food production in 84 out of the country’s 116 districts, destroying about 1 million hectares of the 2.2 million hectares planted with the staple maize crop.

ZNFU raises concerns that FRA’s pricing strategy may not attract farmers, especially those seeking to recoup losses from a lean farming season.

The competitive market landscape suggests that farmers will naturally opt for higher-paying buyers.

To address this, ZNFU suggests that FRA should align its prices with import parity prices (IPP) to incentivize local farmers and prevent maize flights to more attractive markets.

According to ZNFU, private buyers are currently offering significantly higher prices for GMO-free maize compared to FRA’s offering of K330 per 50kg bag (US$264 per tonne).

Moreover, spot prices in neighboring countries for similar maize types range from US$300 to US$570 per tonne, further highlighting the disparity.

Elias M. Banda, Manager of Communication, Media, and Public Relations Services at ZNFU, stated, “As a Union, we feel that FRA has ‘missed a penalty’ on pricing and are unlikely to compete favorably in the market.”

Furthermore, concerns have been raised regarding a statement attributed to the Ministry of Agriculture, suggesting that all Farmer Input Support Program (FISP) beneficiaries who fail to supply maize to FRA will be blacklisted.

This directive, ZNFU argues, unfairly targets farmers who have suffered crop failures due to the declared national disaster of drought. With many farmers unable to meet their obligations due to circumstances beyond their control, such threats only exacerbate their challenges.

In light of the current agricultural crisis, ZNFU appeals to the Ministry of Agriculture to reconsider its stance and provide support mechanisms for all farmers, irrespective of their participation in FISP.

The focus, the Union asserts, should be on alleviating the plight of farmers and ensuring the nation’s food security rather than punitive measures that may further marginalize vulnerable agricultural communities.

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