15 January 2013

Zambia: Redefine Food Reserve Agency


ALLOW me to express my happiness with the PF Government for appointing Chola Kafwabulula as chief executive of the Food Reserve Agency.

I think the rejuvenation of the institution should not just target piecemeal appointments but should include a complete overhaul of the institution.

The problem lies with two seemingly innocuous phrases that observers are pushing to be included in this exercise: Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) and Food Reserve Agency (FRA).

FRA is actually a slippery term which can be used to describe a range of activities, most of which are far from sustainable.

Apparently, there is no agreed-upon definition but a range of criteria for defining and measuring FRA have been debated among successive Government technocrats since the early 1990s.a

They include things like levels of strategic food reserves, grain export markets, the productive capacity of peasant farmers and whether the long-term socio-economic needs of the local population are being met.

Sounds good in principle but in the quasi-absence of a clear Government authority responsible for defining and then policing FRA, it has become a catch-all term chosen by savvy cross-border traders to act as a smokescreen for business-as-usual mealie-meal smuggling to DRC and Tanzania.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture and others are not doing enough to ensure that FRA's criteria remain geared towards maintaining a grain export market.

DMMU presents a similar challenge. Here efforts are made to minimise the climatologic impacts on food security due to droughts and floods.

The best scenario of DMMU is to take charge of the national strategic food reserves rather than FRA.

The belief is that grain exports can boost economic development in the country. In practice, illegal cross-border trade has created conflicts with local communities, exacerbating poverty rather than reducing it.

It has often gone hand-in-hand with corruption. It is part of the problem, not the solution.

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