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Peasants’ food for thought

RESTRICTIONS on the export of maize are among reasons which have been cited for lack of incentives by farmers to escalate the production of the staple crop.
It is argued that allowing commercial and small-scale farmers to export part of their maize and other agricultural produce would help them earn more and reinvest in their ventures.
According to the World Bank, preventing farmers from exporting maize deters them from making long-term investments and the private sector from investing in input supply, storage, and marketing.
A recent World Bank report recommended that Zambia adopts a stepwise approach of moving towards an open borders policy for maize.
The report said trade restrictions lead to inefficient production and investment decisions such as large farmers underutilising maize capacity since mid-2000s.
The report said a predictable policy environment will enhance maize production and food security.
It is therefore gratifying that Government has adopted the policy of open borders for maize exports by allowing the export of 83,000 metric tonnes of grain under the early maize programme.
This gesture should motivate farmers because their earnings in foreign currencies would not only be higher than local prices, but would also enable them to afford farming inputs.
The farmers would reinvest in their business by procuring seed and other requisites needed for the forthcoming season.
Allowing the export of the 83,000 tonnes of maize could not have come at a better time than now when the Kwacha is under pressure from internationally convertible currencies.
The Kwacha is currently at about K18 to a United States dollar, the worst in years.
So, the export of the maize should help reverse the trade balance, which has been tilted against the country.
Zambia has for over five decades relied on copper as the main export. However, copper prices tend to be vulnerable to unfavourable fluctuations.
This prompted Government to embark on economic diversification to reduce dependence on the metal. The programme is on course but may need further stimulus.
Tourism, manufacturing and agriculture are some of the sectors driving the economic diversification programme.
Given the country’s vast endowment of arable land, a good climate, abundant surface and underground water resources, agriculture is the most suitable sector for diversification.
Agriculture is being harnessed by investing in high-value crops such as flowers, sunflower, groundnuts, cowpeas, sorghum, millet, and maize, as well as actualising agro-processing to make the country a hub of agro-products in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Small-scale farmers who have been beneficiaries of the Farmer Input Support Programme should be helped to get better markets, especially after Zambia’s food security quota has been met.
Gone are the days when being a landlocked country was a disadvantage. Today, this gives Zambia’s land links to other countries the advantage of having a broader market for its produce.
Farming is a way of life for millions of Zambians, but there is evidently still a challenge of graduating from being small-scale crop producers to being medium and eventually commercial farmers.
The hand-to-mouth farmer can never be an exporter. They must improve their knowledge in crop production to maximise their fruits of their labour.
All across the country there is evidence of hard work by peasant farmers who till large tracts of land using basic tools. Unfortunately, there is also evidence of poor farming methods as yields are often poor.

Government is providing various platforms for these small-scale farmers to markedly improve their yields, but there is more that still has to be done.
One such platform is that of cooperatives. Although this model has been in existence for decades, there is need for more schooling of its members on what such a grouping should aim to achieve.
For many, this is merely a platform for receiving inputs and selling the produce. It must be for much more than this. Cooperatives must be like business entities that seek profits; huge profits and, therefore, improved standards of living for their members.
Members have to help each other succeed because it is their collective effort or produce that would help them get better markets.
That is the only way that the narrative will change from smuggling to exporting. More importantly, that is one of the key paths to getting peasant farmers out of poverty and making serious and significant contributions to Zambia’s economic growth.

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