Zambia lifts ban on maize export
<p> Lusaka – Zambia has opened maize export after registering a bumper harvest of over three million tonnes last season.
The country surpassed the national requirement of 2.8 million tonnes of maize by over half-a-million tonnes to record more than 3.3 million tonnes this year following a government decision to subsidise fertiliser and seed to small-scale farmers.
Agriculture and co-operatives minister, Wylbur Simuusa, says the government decided to open maize exports despite ongoing debates over the decision.
He said the country was producing a lot of food in excess of domestic consumption and could grow its potential to feed beyond the Southern region as a food basket hence the need to extend the gesture to the neighbours.
“We grow enough food to satisfy local needs and the ban on exports is not helping us as a country. This is a strategy embarked on as government, the focus should not be lifting the ban but instead the farmers should focus on the international exchange rates,” said the minister.
Minister Simuusa was speaking at the launch of the Third Zambia Economic Brief (TZEB) by the World Bank Group in Lusaka recently.
The minister noted that it is gratifying that apart from the mining sector, the agriculture sector can also immensely contribute to the Gross Domestic Product (DDP) of Zambia as evidenced from last season’s yields.
The economic potential and contribution of the agricultural sector have been acknowledged by various co-operating partners, including the World Bank and the World Food Programme (WFP), that have invested heavily in support of its growth, he said.
Minister Simuusa, however, explained that government needed to improve policies to reposition its influence on GDP from the current situation to a much higher figure and that there was need to expand the export base in the agriculture sector. Maize alone stood at about 200 000 metric tons this year, and according to Minister Simuusa, that was the reason why, “I have already approved 35 000 tonnes for export to our neighbours.”
Meanwhile, the minister has appealed for improved capital investment into the agriculture sector to utilise the vast arable land and water resources available across the country.
He challenged small-scale farmers to increase output from the current 900 000 tonnes to one million tonnes from the next agriculture season.
About 93 percent of the total maize produced in Zambia was from the small-scale farmers who were the beneficiaries of government’s planned subsidies, Simuusa revealed.
“We are moving away from consumption subsidies. We are more interested on input subsidies which will give us increased production for the small local farmers who will now benefit from the open border policy.
“If we can grow enough food to satisfy exports, then it will encourage more of our local farmers to grow more and benefit from the ‘Maize without Borders’ policy,” he said.
Praveen Kumar, World Bank lead economists during the Third Zambia Economic Brief launch, advised the Zambian government to encourage value addition to agricultural products in order to improve trade and competition in the sector.
Kumar urged Zambia to take advantage of its potential in agriculture to provide jobs through value addition as opposed to raw exports, said.
“It is more beneficial to have Zambians produce with added value, rather than raw products grown in Zambia,” he added.
According to the Zambia Economic Brief, which was theme ‘Promoting trade and competitiveness: What can Zambia do?’ the informal sector had great influence on the local economy with support from home businesses as major contributors.
“Agriculture’s contribution to GDP is now 9.9 percent whereas mining is now at 13 percent of GDP. It is revealing that services sector now accounts for more than half the GDP of the country.
“While this may be good news, what does it mean for our vast land and water resources? Have we not been able to exploit these resources to the fullest?” Kumar questioned.
The World Bank economist said he was impressed by the upsurge in diversification of the country’s exports, which he said could gain momentum with good government policies.
Kumar also called on stakeholders to engage in healthy debates on the country’s policies and interventions on trade and competitiveness and further opportunities for job creation. The Zambian Food Reserve Agency recently announced that that it has reviewed the deadline of the maize marketing season to October 7, from October 31 as earlier planned after it bought excess maize from farmers and that it still owes the producers over US$200 million in maize bought.
Minister Simuusa pledged government’s commitment to pay farmers in dire need of funds to buy inputs. This follows concerns over the delayed payments for the crops delivered to various deports in the country by small-scale farmers last season.
The revision of the maize purchasing season deadline was to enable the government take stock of the crop and ensure it is safely stored while looking at finances to pay the farmers in various parts of the country for the crop.
Zambia’s maize is the country’s staple food and accounts for 75 percent of the crops grown and has in recent years been providing the corn to its neighbours including Zimbabwe, which recently sought about 500 000 tonnes to meet the food needs. Others were Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), whose harvests were affected by poor weather patterns and drought, which afflicted the SADC region in 2013.