By BUUMBA CHIMBULU
MILLERS are blackmailing government to make a political decision to release maize from the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) by deliberately keeping mealie meal prices high while refusing to buy the crop from farmers, Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) president Jarvis Zimba has charged.
Mr Zimba told the Daily Nation in an interview yesterday that it would be suicidal for government to release FRA maize now without a crop forecast for the next season.
He revealed that there was no maize shortage in the country, “there is plenty of maize, but millers who did not buy forward must now pay more to cover the cost of fumigation, storage and related costs.”
Consumers, he said, should appreciate the effort farmers were making to feed the nation, “what is a K5 or K10 increase when people spend more on talktime.”
“They should not politicize maize production and force government to release strategic reserves,” the ZNFU president said.
“We do not know whether there will be enough stocks or how the weather pattern will be, so government can not release strategic reserves now when the market has enough maize which millers can get from farmers and traders,” he said.
He explained that there are 1.5 million farmers feeding over 16 million people and assured that the nation would not starve.
According to Mr Zimba, some millers’poor planning had led to them having no maize while those who had made prior arrangements with farmers, had enough stocks.
Millers, he said, should go out and buy the grain from the farmers or shut their mills if they failed to plan properly.
He also advised millers to offer better prices because farmers have to recover crop production costs.
“FRA’s purpose is not to supply the millers when there are stocks on the market, but to keep strategic reserves for emergencies,” he said.
And the Grain Traders Association of Zambia (GTAZ) has urged the Ministry of Agriculture to audit millers to establish how much maize they have so far bought.
However, Agriculture Minister, Michael Katambo said he had yet to review ministry operations and needed to consult with his permanent secretary.
GTAZ executive director Chambuleni Simwinga explained that millers never declared how much maize they bought to the stock monitoring committee meeting yet they were mandated to do so.
“Every month we have a stock monitoring committee meeting at the ministry (Agriculture) where Zambia National Farmers Union, Food Reserve Agency, traders, millers and other organisations meet and declare stocks as to how much maize is with the traders,
“And what we find is that the millers do not declare how much they have bought, so the industry is in the dark as to how much millers have bought,” Mr. Simwinga said.
Mr. Simwinga, speaking in an interview also said that while the maize prices fell during the 2017/18 farming season, millers had a responsibility to stock enough maize.
He explained that millers were not in a position to complain about the price of maize on the market as they had enough time to secure the raw materials.
“The 2017 harvested maize was very large and prices collapsed, both FRA and the market were paying a low price, it is the duty of the millers to secure the material they require for the year at a time when the commodity is in abundance at the lowest price,
“Now if they (millers) wait six, seven months after the harvest, what normally happens is that those who have bought maize have to find where they can store it and that adds on costs,” said Mr. Simwinga.
Mr. Simwinga added: “It is astonishing that only a few millers are complaining that they cannot access stock at US$1, 550 per ton which is the price on the European market which is a low price. They want to tongue twist FRA to provide the maize.”