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Purchase of 1m mt of maize will stress the national treasury, cautions Kabaghe

THE purchase of one million metric tonnes of maize at a cost of around US $122 million is for sure going to stress the national treasury in the midst of competing needs, says the Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute (IAPRI) executive director Chance Kabaghe.

And Kabaghe says COVID-19 presents an opportunity for a positive impact on the medium to long term growth of the agricultural sector.

According to IAPRI’s take on the importance of facts and factual dialogue in the COVID-19 pandemic era made available by the institute’s outreach director Ballard Zulu, Kabaghe said Zambian farmers could produce most of what Zambia needs.

“The purchase of one million MT at a cost of around USD 122 million is for sure going to stress the national treasury in the midst of competing needs. The targeted size of one million MT (metric tonnes) is considerably higher than what the country really needs to respond to unforeseen deficits. The surplus money could be used in very needy areas of agriculture such as extension, irrigation,” he said. “Over years, Zambia has developed and is now better positioned to deal with any shocks without the need to hold such huge stocks. Instead, FRA should seriously consider focusing on procuring enough grain for the Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR) of 500,000 MT (at a cost of around $61 million). This should be accompanied by open borders to allow farmers, private sector export and earn the country the much-needed foreign exchange.”

Kabaghe said opening up borders and allowing maize exports would help prop up domestic prices, in turn incentivize more farmers/private sector investments in maize production next season and beyond.

He said going by the information IAPRI was receiving from official verifiable sources in Zambia and around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is not relenting in most parts of the world and in Zambia as well.

“These unfavourable statistics are creating a sense of trepidation and despair in most of us and it is becoming increasingly difficult to think calmly about most things in life. Social media, which has no guarantee of being factual, is making things worse with an increase of rumours, opinions and downright fabrications portrayed as ‘facts’,” he said. “This fluidity of information has led to some people taking harmful positions/decisions for themselves and their loved ones where the necessary steps required in stopping the spread of this scourge are being ignored wholesomely. However, as we try to survive the current COVID-19 problem and preserve our economy for now and the future, we can only do so if we are factual and use empirical evidence in our approach.”

Kabaghe revealed that Zambia was projected to harvest 3,387,469 tonnes of maize this year compared to 2,004,389 tonnes harvested during the 2018/2019 season.

He said of the projected harvest, the country required only about half of that for human, animal and industry consumption.

“Which means that the remainder has to be handled in a way that encourages/motivates the farmers and other private sector participants

to participate even more in ensuing farming seasons,” Kabaghe said.

He said despite COVID-19 pandemic creating several serious challenges, it had also some opportunities that needed to be taken effective advantage of.

“With regard to the second fact on COVID-19, it is clearly evident that the Zambian farming sector can produce most of Zambia’s needs. In fact, even before the lockdown in South Africa, most of Zambia’s food was produced locally with only 5.3 per cent of the imports being food as of 2018. With the lockdown occasioned by COVID-19, there is a likelihood that the food imports have even declined further,” said Kabaghe.

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