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FOR the first time in decades maize farmers will have a reason to celebrate their hard work.

The Food Reserve Agency (FRA) has set K110 as price for a 50 kilogram bag of the grain for the 2019 crop marketing season.

This must have been the culmination of months of behind-the-scene consultations between FRA, the Zambia National Farmers Union, Zambia Union for Small-scale Farmers and various other stakeholders in the agriculture sector.

The new price reflects an increase of K40 because a 50kg bag was fetching K70 in the 2018 crop marketing season.

Last year was a difficult season For FRA, which failed to meet its annual target of strategic reserves of 500,000 metric tonnes.

This is because farmers failed shortchanged and many of them preferred to sell their grain to millers and feed makers who were offering between K100 and K120 for a 50kg bag while FRA was offering K70.

The other reason why many farmers were not willing to sell their maize to FRA is the perennial late payments.

Those who sold the grain to the agency were forced to wait for months, right into the next farming season, before they could be paid.

This is perhaps one issue Government will have to seriously look into.

The erratic funding to FRA has caused misery to the farmers who have been supplying it with maize for its strategic reserves.

The worst affected have been small-scale farmers most of who have limited choices on where to sell their produce.

As a result ZNFU and other pressure groups championing the interests of farmers have been telling their members to stop growing maize and diversify to other crops which are easier to sell at reasonable prices.

The price announced this year will certainly motivate the farmers who have been complaining that they have been losing out because of the low floor prices FRA had been announcing the recent years.

Those who managed to grow the grain in areas that were not affected by the drought that hit the southern half of Zambia will earn a decent income from their sweat.

It may not be the best price but, certainly, it is a lot better than what the maize has been fetching in recent years.

We hope those who refused to sell their maize to will change their mind and sell their maize to the government so that there is enough food in the national reserves.

FRA board chairman Joe Simachela said the agency will buy soya beans at K150 for a 50 kilogram bag and paddy rice at K70 for a 40 kilogram bag.

Mr Simachela explained that the figures he had announced are not floor prices but that they are the prices at which FRA will be buying the commodities.

Farmers are free to negotiate for higher prices with other buyers such as millers and brewers of beer and other beverages on the open market.

We commend Government for providing leadership in arriving at the new prices.

The price of maize has been an emotive issue each crop marketing season, a cause of tension with some politicians trying to scavenge some political points out of it.

President Edgar Lungu has in the last three years been calling for decent prices for maize so that farmers can reap returns on their investment.

We just hope FRA will not again subject vulnerable farmers to untold suffering by failing to pay them when they supply it with their maize and other produce.

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