By Daimone Siulapwa
Maize bumper harvest of over 2.7 million tones
WE rarely have good news coming out of our one and only beloved country Zambia.
But the recent announcement that the country has recorded an unprecedented maize bumper harvest of over 2.7 million tones, is certainly that should certainly light-up our faces.
The country is reported to now have a maize surplus of 1,085,709. According to statistics available from the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, the last time Zambia had a crop output close to that of this year, was during the 1988-89 farming season when a production of 1,943,219 tonnes was recorded.
Whichever way one looks at it, this is commendable, and the small-scale farmers or peasant farmers as we like to call them deserve every bit of commendation and encouragement.
That said, I strongly believe that if the benefits of this bumper harvest are not transferred to the farmer, by way of paying him a good floor price, and also the consumer, by way of having the cost of mealie-meal reduced, then we might as well stop talking about a bumper harvest. Whose is the bumper harvest for if it not for you and me who make-up this entity we call Zambia?
Of course we all know that we are living in a liberalized or competitive market where market forces play a very significant role in determining the cost of commodities. But excuse me, when we talk about the cost of mealie-meal, we are not just talking about anything here – it is not like we are talking about the cost of bringing a car into Zambia from Japan or the cost of a DStv subscription – this is a matter of life and death. Mealie-meal, which we use to make our most cherished staple food, nshima is a matter of life and death. The food riots that we had during the Kaunda era, where they not as a result of the pricing of mealie-meal among other essential food items? And because of that, we expect the government to take a different attitude and approach towards agriculture in general, and maize in particular. In fact, like it or hate it, this is a political ministry requiring a political decision to be made. Whether that will win the MMD government a vote or not, I do not care, but what I do care about is for an average Zambian to be able to afford the cost of his staple food.
I read in the Sunday Times of Zambia a few months back, Chimsoro Milling chief executive officer Costain Chilala saying a bumper harvest may not automatically translate into reduced mealie meal prices on the market because of a number of factors. These factors, according to him, include the market price for purchasing maize and production costs and the price of fertilizer. He said if the millers paid low prices to purchase the maize, they would definitely reduce the price of maize on the market but that it would be too early to speculate on a possible reduction.
In economic terms, this argument is very much valid, but like I have stated earlier, this is not just any other sector, this is a bread and butter sector requiring more than an economic argument. It requires political decisions to be undertaken.
And with that, I would want the government to be more bold in calling for a reduction of prices of mealie-meal. With the rise in electricity tariffs and fuel pump prices, Zambians can certainly do with a reduction in the cost of mealie-meal.
After all, who does not want to eat nshima, for others, even after they have had other meals such as rice.