The Zambia National Farmers Union, agriculture minister Michael Katambo and his newly appointed permanent secretary Songowayo Zyambo met in Lusaka yesterday to discuss ways in which the country’s key sector can be revamped.
Zyambo, who once served as ZNFU executive director, was given the permanent secretary portfolio for a sector that is one of the country’s main foreign exchange earners.
The agriculture sector has, in recent years, suffered huge setbacks from policy inconsistencies, droughts, late distribution of inputs, poor market prices for commodities such as cotton and tobacco, among others.
Through yesterday’s meeting, Katambo and Zyambo agreed to create a platform for constant discussions with the ZNFU to avoid inconsistencies in the agriculture sector.
ZNFU, on its part, brought out critical matters that it feels need urgent attention through consultation and action by the government.
One of the issues highlighted by the ZNFU include the need for lifting of the maize/mealie meal export ban to enable foreign exchange earnings as the country readies for the coming marketing season.
Other issues raised were “the need for Government to prioritize funding for the agriculture sector so that come marketing time farmers will be paid on time and inputs positioned on time at planting time (the Union bemoaned blame being heaped on farmers for poor yields, yet farmers are paid late, and inputs are supplied late); the need for credible data to guide policy decisions (declaring a surplus through the crop forecast then banning grain exports; sending conflicting market signals); the importation of agriculture products taking place at the expense of expanding local production when the country should be harnessing production at all costs; farmers facing financial distress due to policy inconsistencies and external factors resulting in foreclosures,” according to ZNFU public relations manager Calvin Kaleyi.
The ZNFU also expressed concern at the state of the tobacco industry which was once a leading foreign exchange earner for Zambia but “is now gripped with uncertainty”.
It further said new costs imposed by new Statutory Bodies were threatening the viability of farming “hence the need to reposition the sector for growth”.
“The Union is confident that a first step has been set and that the platform for dialogue will materialise soon so that the issues are tabled, solutions proposed, and implementation followed through. Meanwhile, the Minister of Agriculture, Honourable Katambo, indicated that he is committed to work with stakeholders so that the sector speaks with one voice,” stated Kaleyi.