FRA must put its house in order

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WE ARE now entering the second week of crop marketing and we hope that the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) has put in place modalities to avoid bottlenecks that usually characterise crop marketing seasons every year.
For the last few years, Zambia’s crop marketing seasons have all been characterised by problems and left many farmers in agony because they have had to wait for months before getting their payment.
We can say it was a trademark of the MMD government where farmers from far-flung places had to spend nights in the cold waiting for their payments from the FRA.
When it came to delivering the maize, farmers still had to spend nights at satellite depots because they would sometimes be told that they had to clean their maize before FRA could accept it.
Last week on Monday, the FRA officially started buying maize and rice from small-scale farmers across the country.
The FRA is buying a 50 kilogramme bag of maize at K65 and a 40 kilogramme bag of rice at the same price and this time around, the Government has assured farmers that they will be paid within two or three weeks after delivering their maize.
Information from the FRA indicates the agency will continue paying farmers over the counter using appointed financial institutions in various locations across the country. we are hoping that these will not be delayed.
But we are getting concerned that within the first week of starting the crop and maize marketing exercise, FRA is already facing some glitches that could adversely affect this programme.
Reports coming from Petauke in Eastern province suggest a critical shortage of fuel has disrupted the transportation of FRA maize from Chilimanyama satellite depot to the main holding depot, about 30 kilometres away from town.
This should be avoided at all costs because we expect that FRA has planned for logistics to transport maize in all districts and it has a clear knowledge about availability of fuel or lack of it in various places.
The instruction by FRA to all provincial marketing coordinators to transport every 600 bags of maize bought from farmers to main depots to curb theft and wastage of grain is timely and must be implemented.
It is very important to avoid maize going to waste due to poor storage or lack of transport because the statistics about crop wastage in Africa where almost 30 to 40 percent of harvests goes to waste are alarming.
This is why we expect that FRA has planned this maize marketing strategically so that very little or no maize that it will buy for strategic food reserves goes to waste.
Maize production has reduced by about 500 metric tonnes from over 3,000,000 to 2,500,000 and it is therefore important that every grain is stored safely.
It is mind boggling that FRA executive director Chola Kafwabulula should say that the erratic supply of fuel in the district has disrupted transportation of bags of maize to main depots, a situation which is also likely to compromise security at the depots.
We are saying it is baffling because we expect FRA, to which districts have reliable fuel supply and those that do not have.
It is common knowledge that many rural districts have poor supply of fuel or none at all and we expect FRA officials to be very aware of this put in place contingent measures.
We are looking forward to a successful crop marketing exercise so that Zambia secures all its crop harvest to avoid costly food imports.