The Zambian maize crop is threatened this year by poor rainfall and a controversy over late payments to farmers for their crops.
The Zambian maize crop is threatened this year by poor rainfall and a controversy over late payments to farmers for their crops. There are reports from some farming communities that farmers could not purchase seed, fertiliser and other materials at the beginning of this year's growing season because they had not been paid for their previous years' crops.
SYNOPSIS: Maize is Zambia's staple food. Zambians consume about six million bags of maize a year, and there are fears that the country's grain reserves could run out by June or July. Mr. Alexander Chikwanda, Minister of Agriculture and Water Development, said if the worst came to the worst, people would have to rely on other starches. He said the country was importing potato seed to distribute to farmers. But, apart from the rainfall problem, late payments to farmers for last year's maize crop has created a controversy over who is to blame. Some critics charge the government and others place the blame on the National Agricultural Marketing Board -- known as Namboard.
One of the Namboard critics, former Zambian Finance Minister, Mr. John Mwanakatwe, claims the board has created its own problems by failing to collect debts, thereby having a shortage of cash when the time came to pay the farmers. Others say the organisation has poor financial control -- sometimes entrusting completely new employees with funds. But those who defend Namboard, say the current government pricing system forces them to sell certain crops at below cost. They also claim the government failed to give Namboard subsidies in time to pay the farmers. Even Zambian President Dr. Kenneth Kaunda seems to support this claim. He said last October, "Namboard's failure to buy crops from farmers and villagers throughout the country was because the money allocated to it by the government was inadequate".
Namboard sympathisers also say the organisation has too much responsibility for buying maize from farmers, storing and distributing it, in addition to negotiating subsidies with the government. While the government and Namboard haggle over who is to blame for the late payments, Zambian Prime Minister, Mr. Daniel Lisulo, had some encouraging words for farmers.