Zambian farmers cry out
The Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) has emphasised the need for stability in the financial market and long-term policy by the government if the country’s agricultural sector is to grow. During a panel discussion of key stakeholders in agriculture, ZNFU president Guy Robinson said current short-term policies on agriculture were not helping the growth of the industry. “We need long-term policies that would ensure certainty of the industry. We cannot have a situation where the government allows for exports of maize in one season and the other season, it changes its position,” he said. He said if poverty had to be alleviated through agriculture, the government should tackle issues such as infrastructure development in rural areas, cost of finance and ensure a stable macro-economic climate. Robinson however, commended the government for acting on Value Added Tax (VAT) concerns raised by farmers. He said through dialogue with the Government, both parties where able to come to an amicable comprise. University of Zambia head of agriculture economics department, Thomson Kalinda said boosting the agricultural sector that was dependent on rainfall required healthy investment in irrigation system. Kalinda said there was further need for the Government to spend 10 percent of the national budget on agriculture. He said that farming was a business that required proper planning and adequate skills to achieve required results. Kalinda noted that to reduce risks associated with farming, farmers should be encouraged to diversify their crop range. “Diversification should be looked at as a way of improving production. Costs associated with farming can be reduced through arrangements of contractual sales,” he said. Barclays Bank Zambia client service director Paul Richards said the bank had increased its exposure to the farming community. Richards said to help the agricultural sector which was in its infancy, there was need for partnership as Barclays Bank alone, could not take all the risks associated with the farming community. Meanwhile, the Zambian Energy Regulation Board (ERB) has hiked the pump prices of petrol and diesel by 4,9 percent following the continued political uncertainties in the energy markets the world over. ERB chairperson, Mwangala Zaloumis, announced at a Press briefing in Lusaka that the prices for kerosene and jet fuel, however, remained the same. Wholesale prices had also risen, for petrol by 9,76 percent from US$63,15 per barrel to US$69,32 per barrel. Diesel had increased by 9,92 percent from US$66,11 per barrel to US$72,67 per barrel. She explained that petroleum products on the international market generally went up in the month of March mainly triggered by a number of factors. The escalating row over the nuclear programme in Iran, which was the fourth largest producer of oil, continued to raise uncertainties in the oil markets. Growing gasoline demand had been particularly high in Asia, with Japan returning to Europe and South Korea to make up for the shortfalls of low-Sulphur grades. “Crude oil prices on the other hand have moved higher, sparked by this high demand for gasoline in Asia, Europe and the United States. “An increase of about US$2,70 per barrel for benchmark crude West Texas Intermediate (WTI) took prices up to U$63,50 per barrel hence the increase,” Zaloumis said. The new prices were effected within 24 hours despite the fact that the Kwacha was still doing fine against convertible currencies, but Zaloumis stressed that the increase was triggered by international trends. In another development, Zambia has been challenged to take advantage of the current liberal imports provisions for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) by the European Union by increasing exports to France. French ambassador to Zambia, Francis Saudubray said France was among the EU countries that had allowed products from LDCs to access their markets creating an opening for imports from LDCs. Saudubray told the Times of Zambia that the southern African country had a wide range of products such as copper, fresh flowers, tobacco, leather and coffee among others, that were on demand in France. He said Zambia should increase its exports to his country as a way of realising increased foreign earnings, which were vital to the economy. Saudubray also noted that trade between Zambia and France was not far from equilibrium. He reaffirmed France’s commitment to help in pushing the negotiations for the implementation of fair access to the global market by LDCs at the next World Trade Organisation (WTO) summit under the Doha round. He said it was important to convince global trading partners that there was need to help developing countries have full access to the markets as it was a way of promoting development.