In a dramatic departure from procedure, President Edgar Lungu announced, on Thursday, that the government is to liberalise the price of maize, at the start of the next marketing season, to boost the staple crop’s productivity.
There has been a positive response to this news from farmers across the board, the Zambian National Farmers’ Union (ZNFU) and other stakeholders, country-wide.
ZNFU’s president, Jervis Zimba, told africanfarming.com that President Lungu’s liberalisation of the maize price was a step in the right direction.
“This will stimulate competition and help farmers get value for their maize,” Zimba said.
The ZNFU president was optimistic that a liberalised crop marketing environment would contribute towards stabilising the price of mealie-meal, and keeping it affordable.
“The move could also break cartels by millers who unnecessarily increase the price of mealie-meal, despite the fact that they buy maize at subsidised rates from the FRA,” he said.
“We cannot continue dictating maize prices from Lusaka at the expense of farmers,” said President Lungu. “Farmers are the producers, and they know how much they put in, so they are best suited to determine the price of maize.” The president was on an inspection tour of government projects in Rufunsa, 50km east of Lusaka.
“This will provide an incentive to farmers and help de-politicise maize production, which has become a highly-charged political issue in Zambia,” he said.
Farmers have consistently complained that government-set pricing for maize did not reflect the cost of production. Many preferred to sell grain to private grain traders, offering slightly better prices than the Food Reserve Agency (FRA), the state agency responsible for purchasing grain.
“The FRA will not set the maize floor price; market forces will determine the price, and I will soon have discussions with FRA management to find ways in which selling maize could be turned into a lucrative business,” Lungu said.
Central Province’s Kapiri Mposhi farmer, Boyd Mutaka, praised government for its positive response to farmers’ demands for better prices for their grain.
“For many years we have cried about the low price set for maize every marketing season. Even this year government set the price at ZMW85 which is in sharp contrast to the ZMW100 private buyers are offering us,” he said.
Gladys Mwewa, a farmer from the Copperbelt’s Mpongwe area said: “This will help us to quickly sell our product at the right price and produce more. We will not have a situation where we wait for payments from FRA.”
At the time of going to press, the Grain Traders Association (GTA) had not responded to africanfarming.com’s request for a comment.