The Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) congratulates the farmers countrywide for attaining a national yield of 3,620,244 metric tons of maize compared to 3.4 million metric tonnes recorded in the 2019/2020 farming season. Further, 411,115 metric tons of soya beans was produced compared to 296,686 metric tonnes in the previous season which translates to a 67% increase.
This is an indication that farmers have now embraced soya beans as a commercial crop and a key crop in the diversification agenda. The good news is that soyabeans supports poultry production, edible oil production and there is demand for it in the export market.
In general, from the fifteen commodities reported through the crop forecast only five commodities recorded a decline in production. Therefore, overall trends of the crop forecast revealed progress as production went up for most commodities but also there was an increase in area under cultivation which demonstrates that there is an increased uptake in crop farming in the country generally.
Having attained such milestones, our take is that the progress we have made MUST be sustained. One cardinal factor towards safeguarding future production is by ensuring that the right market incentives are in place to guarantee farmers get fair prices that will enable them to participate in the next farming season.
To most of us in the farming sector, the progress achieved on maize production does not surprise us because it is well-documented and a known fact that Zambia should be the hub of grain production in the region. This is because the soils are well suited and the yields capable of being attained in this country are next to none. Recently in Mpika at the National field Day a small-scale farmer was harvesting at 7 metric ton per hectare and in other areas like Mpongwe, yields as high as 9.5 metric tons per hectare have been recorded.
We followed with keen interest the statement by the Honourable Minister of Agriculture on the Crop Forecast for the 2020/2021 marketing season, especially to determine the marketing aspects for the announced huge crop. On exports, it was highlighted that the country has attained a maize surplus and exports will not be denied but will be through the millers who will in turn create a market for farmers, then 80,000 metric tonnes of the grain will be exported through the World Food Programme and arrangements will be put in place for the early maize which will be grown next season for export.
Our instant take on this marketing strategy is that the country will not tap into the regional markets in an optimal way because we are not sending a signal that we are open for maize export business and we cannot understand why. Zambia should be alive to the fact that the region has had a good crop overall and the country has a huge surplus of 1.5 million tonnes.
The ZNFU appeals to Government to address this anomaly with urgency because the country should be engaging in a massive export drive to sell the surplus immediately. This should include inviting the Democratic Republic of Congo to come and source their 600,000 metric tonnes of maize and mealie meal officially as agreed under the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Such an announcement would end the smuggling immediately.
The marketing arrangements for this huge crop will require timely policy decisions so that the private sector can capture niche export market opportunities before the domestic market gets saturated and prices crash. Should we allow this to happen, then all the gains will be reversed as farmers will end up with poor prices, become discontent and the future season will be catastrophic as farmers will abandon maize growing. We appeal to Government to allow the export of 1.5 million tons of maize as grain or mealie meal immediately because the export destination will determine what is desired.
Government should also revoke the Statutory Instrument (SI) that deters maize export by slapping a 10% export tax on maize grain exports. Winding back, when the Ministry of Finance introduced this tax, it was stated by the then Minister of Finance, Honourable Mutati and the former Minister of Agriculture Honourable Dora Siliya that when national harvest exceeds 2.2 million metric tons, the 10% export tax would automatically be removed. We, therefore, appeal to the Honourable Minister of Finance and the Minister of Agriculture to act swiftly and remove the 10% export tax now that the country has produced 3.6 million tonnes. This will make the maize grain become attractive to trade in the region and help us avoid oversupply on the domestic market.
The Union recognizes that value addition is important to improving foreign exchange earnings of a particular commodity, however, there is a compelling case in favour of export of grain as certain export markets demand for it. Why compel farmers to export through a mono channel by only selling to millers to export in form of mealie meal only? In the past, we have exported limited quantities because of such conditions.This policy stance should be revisited because we should be mindful that Zambia is not the only source of maize and that logistically, the 1.5 million tonnes surplus will not vanish from Zambia overnight.
Our call is that the export program must be strategically implemented to the benefit of all private sector players that is, the farmers, the millers, and the traders. The Union is of a consented view that grain and mealie meal exports should be pursued in parallel immediately and even the MOU with DRC was structured in this manner.
It is worth noting that the policy to deliberately encourage mealie meal exports ONLY will not strike maximum benefits for the grain industry nor the country. This is primarily because of not only the limited capacity to mill all the grain but also because the incentive to buy maize will now only be from one stakeholder, the miller, leaving the grain traders with no option but to participate in grain purchases in a low-key manner for this marketing season as they will have to sell the maize to the millers or WFP. We have an opportunity to make an indelible mark on exports in the region but if not well harnessed, this will not happen and farmers who have shown that they are able to produce will be discouraged because of the poor prices that will arise.
In a nutshell, the Union is pleased with the farmers efforts in engaging in producing the staple food. BUT we are disappointed by the latest twist in the policy announced by the Minister of Agriculture on the maize exports because this certainly has no blessings of the farmers who will be short-changed in the process because the prospects of getting a fair price through a mono channel of exporting will not be there.