10 November 2012

Zambia: Subsidising Crop Marketing in Zambia

opinion

On Friday the 26th October, I was driving from Indaba village where I had gone to attend a meeting by women groups on community banking.

As usual, I decided to tune in to Parliament Radio to listen to our members of Parliament debate.

It was exactly 12:45 hours and I suspect a Member of Parliament (MP) from Eastern Province was the one on the floor.

He started by blaming the Government's insistence on thinking agriculture is all about maize production and marketing, a sentiment I strongly agree with.

However, the member decided to divert and delve into some issues I was made to believe he does not understand well.

He started talking about subsidising marketing of other crops other than maize and not production.

I was uncomfortable when he talked about soyabeans, groundnuts and sunflower.

According to him, he said production of these crops was not a problem but what has been a problem is the marketing.

I choose to vehemently disagree with the honourable member in that as much as he would want the Government to help the farmers with marketing of these crops, productivity of these crops has been a big issue.

When we talk of Government helping the smallholder farmers with marketing, I don't think our MPs mean the Government subsidising marketing like they are doing with maize.

If indeed, that's what they mean, then they are wrong and they need to check their policies.

Allow me to tackle this sensitive issue from two angles; production and marketing.

Are we producing enough crops as smallholder farmers in Zambia?

The answer to this simple question is no?

Can the MP mention one crop which the smallholder farmers are producing efficiently apart from the horticultural crops; none!

We have a lot of maize in this country because we have several hundreds of thousands of farmers that are growing maize.

The average yield of maize for the smallholder farmers is around 2.2 tonnes per hectre against a potential of 8+t/ha.

If a farmer is producing 2.2t and is buying all the inputs at full cost, he/she would not break even if they sell their produce regardless of the market (FRA or Traders).

To break even, the farmers need to produce at a yield not less than 5t/ha.

Talk of sunflower, the demand for sunflower as an alternative input in livestock feed making is enormous and if there is anyone who has 100t of that commodity, I can show him where to take it and will be given cash at the spot.

The average national yields of sunflower are around 0.5t against the potential of 3t.

Talk of soyabeans, the story is the same.

Smallholder farmers' average yields are between 0.6 - 0.9t/ha.

This is far much less than what the commercial farmers are getting at 3t/ha and above.

The story is worse with groundnuts because for this commodity, we do not even have certified seed in the whole country.

Whatever farmers will produce will be grown from either grain or QDS.

We need to support production as well.

When we talk about supporting production, I don't mean to give subsidised inputs and handouts, NO!

What I mean is enabling the production environment such as investing in research and development (R&D), extension delivery, promotion of better agronomic practices such as liming the soils and many others.

It is quite disheartening that we are still relying on technologies that were developed 48 years ago such as the application of fertiliser.

Talk to any extension officer near you about production of maize.

Ask them how much of the fertiliser one is supposed to apply in a hectare?

The answer they will give you is 4 D Compound and 4 Urea regardless of the type of soil.

Even in the alkaline soils like those in the valleys of some parts of Southern Province, the farmers will have the same recommendations as the acidic soils of Mbala.

That is not the agriculture we want in the 21st Century or 48 years after independence.

Let us switch and talk about marketing which the honourable MP emphasised.

I am in total support that we should help our smallholder farmers to market their produce, but how are we going to do this?

I know that the MP was thinking of fixing prices for groundnuts, soyabeans and sunflower like they do with maize.

That is not sustainable and this country doesn't have enough resources to do that.

What we need to do is to promote value addition.

If we promote localised processing industries in the areas of production, then we are stimulating marketing of these commodities.

I should invite the MP to thoroughly study the soyabean value chain and he may report to me what he will find.

Soyabeans have a ready market because we currently have about 250,000+ t of processing/crushing capacity of the grain.

ZAMANITA, Tiger Feeds, National Milling, Mt Meru, Emman, Gourock; name them are, they are all looking for soyabeans.

That is what we need to do with cotton, sunflower and groundnuts; to name just a few.

In addition, I am excited about the 8,000 kilometre road link that the Government has launched and my prayer is that it is done as soon as they can.

When we open up all those 'dark' areas like the road to Vubwi, the road from Chienge to Lambwechomba/Lambwechikwama near Kaputa, the road from Kaoma to Lukulu to Kabompo; then we are helping with marketing of the agriculture commodities.

We can't depend on borrowed money to be giving to unproductive activities (for consumption).

We need to improve the communication network, reduce the cost of sending a text message, increase power generation thereby reducing the cost of irrigation. By so doing, we shall be helping the smallholder farmer to produce and market his commodities.

Let the MP talk to the banks to reduce the cost of lending.

Because if traders can access affordable finance, they will procure more crops and sell it to Congo, for instance.

Let me end by stating that I was impressed with the debate by the MP for Mafinga.

I wish she could have walked the talk when she was still holding power or was in the corridors of power; it's never too late though.

By constructively debating, you are contributing in a way although you could have done much more than that.

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