The Zambia National Farmers Union says the announced floor price of K70 per 50 kg bag of maize is not enough given the cost of production. On the other hand, the Millers Association of Zambia says the K70 floor price is so high the prices of mealie meal will increase.
The reality however is that maize production is expensive but subsidies at both input and output stages over the years have made it appear like it is cheap to produce.
Previous governments over the last decade have been spending increasing amounts of money, far above budget, and chiefly for political reasons, in subsidising the production and consumption of maize, thereby presenting a distorted picture to the producers, middlemen and consumers, regarding the real costs involved.
Previous governments looked at maize as politics since, as the country’s staple, it impacted on the entire population and was the surest way of getting cheap votes. This is the main reason they spent and, most times, overspent on subsidies – to please the voters and continue winning elections.
This decision was more political than it was economic. It was a decision that, by and large, was a drain on the economy considering the fact that the amounts spent on subsidies kept rising far above the budget as and when political considerations had to be made especially during election years.
But the PF government is not afraid to make the right decisions that will benefit the country in the long run, even at the expense of its own political popularity, with regards to maize production, marketing and consumption.
In its manifesto (2011-16) (see http://www.pf.org.zm/index/index.php/downloads/manifesto), the party recognises the difficulties and the political excesses that have characterised maize production in the past.
The PF therefore emphasises the following:
■A shift from maize monoculture both in terms of consumption and production
■Crop diversification to enable farmers grow more of the crops that are profitable to themselves and the economy
■Review and depoliticizing subsidies
Meantime it is also important to note that maize dependency for the nation is risky because:
■it is rain-based. There are years when its production will reduce due to drought and with the full effect of climate change emerging, the future of maize production is not encouraging
■maize is grown even in low yield areas. This is inefficient as a country because maize takes up land that can be used to produce more of other high yield and more valuable crops
■Maize isn’t the cheapest nor most nutritious food. We might as well start thinking about other food options.
It is therefore time we faced the maize reality and, in doing so, the PF government is implementing policies that will balance the interests of the producers, millers and consumers of maize while at the same time focusing on implementing more sustainable and long term agriculture production policies that will steer economic growth and improve the livelihoods of the people away from the maize monoculture.
IT IS NOT EASY BUT WILL BE DONE UNDER THE PF GOVERNMENT, WHICH CARES MORE ABOUT THE PEOPLE THAN ABOUT POLITICS