Mealie Meal Price Crisis Sours Healthy Harvest in Zambia


By Professor Mwine Lubemba

THE joy of a bumper harvest in Zambia is being erased by an artificial severe maize shortage at some privately owned and operated milling plants.  They are making life unbearable for millions of people in urban areas, who have to spend more of their own money to put the staple food on the table.

But Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) president Jarvis Zimba charged that millers were 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.

The ZNFU president advised that it would be suicidal for government to release FRA maize now without a crop forecast for the next season. He maintained 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.”

According to the ZNFU president, 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, storage and fumigation costs.

And the Grain Traders Association of Zambia (GTAZ) urged the Ministry of Agriculture to audit millers to establish how much maize they had so far bought.

However, the newly appointed Agriculture Minister, Michael Katambo said that he had yet to review ministry operations and needed to consult with his permanent secretary. Meanwhile, the GTAZ executive director, Mr 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.

As fate would have it, the mealie meal trade war intensified with millers insisting that Government has to release maize from the FRA if traders continue “hiding” maize from the open market.

They also challenged traders to release the grain to stop mealie meal prices from rising. According to the Millers Association of Zambia (MAZ), some of its members have since shut down production due to lack of maize on the open market. MAZ chairperson, Andrew Chintala challenged those accusing millers of trying to blackmail government to offload maize on the open market.

So, what needs to be done by Government to put an end to this mealie meal price crisis that sours  a healthy harvest year-in and year-out around this time of the year in Zambia?

Perhaps fearing the adverse publicity this mealie meal price crisis is generating, the Zambian government should take a leaf from its Kenyan counterpart by establishing an Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Authority (AFFA) as a long-term measure to curtail the annual mealie meal price shenanigans.

In Kenya for instance, the agriculture sector reforms began in 2003 with the formulation of the Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth and Employment Creation (ERS) and the Strategy for Revitalisation of Agriculture (SRA).

The sector reforms were aimed at reviewing, updating and harmonising the legal framework that would rationalise multiple legislation and regulations governing the sector.

Prior to the current reforms, the sector had in excess of 130 laws that made the sector uncompetitive, inefficient and too bureaucratic for a conducive business environment. It was also envisaged that these reforms would make the sector regionally and globally competitive through the overall reduction of cost of production and increased efficiency in service delivery.

The merger process commenced with consolidation of the agricultural sector legislations which culminated into the enactment of three key laws namely:

  • Agriculture Fisheries and Food Authority Act, 2013.
  • The Crops Act,
  • The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Act, 2013

The AFFA Act, 2013 came into effect on the 17th January 2014. The Act consolidates the laws on the regulation and promotion of agriculture and makes provision for the respective roles of the national and county governments in agriculture and related matters, in line with the provisions of the fourth schedule of the constitution of Kenya.

The Act also makes provisions for the establishment of the Agriculture Fisheries and Food Authority, which is the successor to the institutions existing before the commencement of AFFA Act and Crops Act.

To oversee the smooth transition of the affected institutions into AFFA and prepare ground for commencement of the Crops Act, the Cabinet Secretary gazetted an Interim Management Committee (IMC) on 28th of February 2014.

In addition, the Cabinet Secretary gazetted ‘1st August 2014’ as the commencement date of the Crops Act, 2013 (vide a gazette notice no.110 dated 1st August 2014).

The Crops Act 2013 repealed the following priory existing statutes;

Agriculture Produce Marketing Act (Cap 320

  1. Canning Crops Act (Cap 328)
  2. Cereals and Sugar Finance Corporation (Cap 329)
  3. Coconut Industry Act (Cap 331)
  4. Cotton Act (Cap 335)
  5. Pyrethrum Act (Cap 340)
  6. Sisal Industry Act (Cap 341)
  7. Tea Act (Cap 343)
  8. Coffee Act (No 9 of 2001)
  9. Sugar Act (No 10 of 2001)

As a result all the institutions earlier established under the repealed laws ceased to exist. These were:

  1. Kenya Sugar Board
  2. Tea Board of Kenya
  3. Coffee Board of Kenya
  4. Horticultural Crops Development Authority
  5. Pyrethrum Board of Kenya
  6. Sisal Board of Kenya
  7. Cotton Development Authority
  8. Kenya Coconut Development Authority

Following the commencement of the Crops Act, 2013 the above listed former institutions became Directorates of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Authority (AFFA). These were:

  1. Coffee Directorate
  2. Tea Directorate
  3. Sugar Directorate
  4. Horticultural Crops Directorate
  5. Fibre Crops Directorate
  6. Nuts and Oil Crops Directorate
  7. Pyrethrum and Other Industrial Crops Directorate
  8. Food Directorate

In line with the Transitional Provisions of the AFFA Act, 2013 and Crops Act, 2013 all the funds, assets, liabilities and rights which were vested in the former institutions now rest in the Authority.

Besides the Directorates, the Crops Act, 2013, under article 9 (1) established a Commodities Fund to provide sustainable and affordable credit and advances to farmers for farm improvement; farm inputs; farming operations; price stabilization; and any other lawful purpose approved by the Authority.

The Fund is the successor of Coffee Development Fund and Sugar Development Fund (which was part of Kenya Sugar Board). Coffee Development Fund and Kenya Sugar Board were among the Agriculture Sector institutions that ceased to be, following coming to effect of Crops Act, 2013.

These sector reforms, which culminated into the AFFA Act, 2013 and the Crops Act, 2013 aims at accelerating the growth and development of agriculture in general.

These reforms, together with the regulations for each sub-sector, now provide an enabling legal and regulatory environment for both local and foreign investors to venture in production, processing, marketing, and distribution of crops in all parts of the country and beyond, through:

  1. Reduced regulatory bureaucracy, and over-regulation of the crops subsector;
  2. Greater efficiency in service delivery, resulting from enhanced synergies, and faster decision making processes.
  3. Reduced costs running the previous institutions through centralised operations.
  4. Rationalised taxation through reduction of levies, taxes and other barriers, in order to facilitate free movement of crop products;
  5. Reduced duplication and overlap of functions among institutions previously involved in the regulation of crop agriculture;
  6. Separation of functions of the national and county governments in crop regulation, development and promotion, in order to attract private sector investment in crops subsector;
  7. Competitive crops subsector through reduction in cost of production, diversification and market outlets;
  8. Creation of the Commodities Fund to provide sustainable and affordable credit and advances to farmers for farm improvement, farm inputs and price stabilisation;
  9. Regulation of all food crops which were hitherto, unregulated
  10. Increased food security in the country as a result of centralized planning
  11. Creating an enabling environment for private sector to invest in crop development, processing and marketing

The tenacity of Zambia as a nation and Zambians as a people is now being sorely tested as the country goes through a sweet and sour experience where the joy of a bumper harvest in the 2016-17 farming season is being cancelled out by an artificial severe maize shortage at some privately owned milling plants that is making life difficult for millions of people, even as presidential and parliamentary elections loom on the horizon come 2021.

For the umpteenth time in many years, Zambia had a good harvest in the 2016-17 agricultural season, thanks to good rains and FISP which is short for the Farmers Input Support Programme a Zambian government initiative established in 2003 to accelerate agricultural growth, improve food security, nutrition, and increase incomes in the country’s largely small scale farm-based economies.

It does this by raising agricultural productivity and encourages public investment in agriculture. In the last 15 years of FISP implementation, Zambia’s agricultural sector has grown. Although moderately, but it is the highest average for the last five decades and is beginning to show signs of improving the lives of poor people.

This growth can be attributed partly to FISP’s emphasis on increasing productivity as well as private-public investment in the agriculture sector.

Also thanks to the ZNFU which in partnership with government implemented the e-voucher system for all beneficiaries under FISP, which has helped to reduce excessive overheads and wastage associated with the manual system. The e-voucher system enables beneficiaries to get any agriculture input other than maize seeds and fertiliser that they used to under the FISP manual system. As expected, last season’s success had spurred an even greater desire to do better in the 2017-18 agricultural season, which begun in November.

The government is also providing tractors to farmers clubs for women on a district-by-district basis to plough smallholder fields as an incentive to women farmers to grow more. A parallel programme for livestock is also underway. All of a sudden, the optimism in agriculture is on the high, and the talk now is of bigger yields this year, in a country that had seen maize production increasing to over 3 million metric tonnes a year for the past several seasons. As Zambia’s economy is being diversified to agriculture from copper mining, the increased agricultural production is expected to positively affect the industry and other sectors.

However, the joy of the bumper harvest is being threatened by a serious mealie meal price crisis where annually, the millers in Zambia have routinely run out of maize stocks and thus have not been able to meet the demands of their customers. The trauma of these mealie meal price hikes  leaves a severe psychological wound on the psyche of Zambians, so much so that they do not want to hear of millers insisting that government will have to release FRA maize meant for food security strategic reserves when millers were aware that there was still close to one million metric tonnes of maize on the open market in Zambia.

As such, the FRA executive director Chola Kafwabulula, said that FRA would not release any maize to millers because there was still enough grain on the open market. It appears FRA has been the main saviour of millers in times of self-inflicted grain shortages in the country for the past many years.

Perhaps predictably, though, the chronic blame game or war of words between ZNFU and GTAZ on one hand and MAZ on the other should have our government compelled to seriously think of establishing an Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Authority whose core values must include professionalism, integrity, customer focus, teamwork and innovativeness.

In addition, its mandate should include the following:

a)To administer the Crops Act in accordance with the provisions of these Acts;

b)To promote best practices in, and regulate, the production, processing, marketing, grading, storage, collection, transportation and warehousing of agricultural and aquatic products excluding livestock products as may be provided for under the Crops Act;

  1. c) To collect and collate data, maintain a database on agricultural and aquatic products excluding livestock products, documents and monitor agriculture through registration of players as provided for in the Crops Act;
  2. d) To be responsible for determining the research priorities in agriculture and aquaculture and to advise generally on research thereof;
  3. e) To advise the national government and the provincial administrations on agricultural and aquatic levies for purposes of planning, enhancing harmony and equity in the sector.
  4. f) To carry out such other functions as may be assigned to it by this Act, the Crops Act and any written law while respecting the roles of the two levels of the Government

 As mealie meal price crisis sours healthy harvest in Zambia, the never-ending blame game over maize stocks and prices between ZNFU and GTAZ on one hand, and MAZ on the other is a considered case of the lesser of two evils perhaps?

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