The ill-timed removal of subsidies from farmers will have serious consequences on agriculture and national food security, Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) has warned.
They have warned that maize production would decline drastically and the national food security situation would be put at risk as the small-scale farmers were weaned off the Fertilizer Input Support Programme (FISP) without putting in place new alternative programmes for financing agriculture.
ZNFU president Jervis Zimba said government’s announcement that farmer contribution to FISP had been increased from K50 to K100 meant that State resources towards the programme had been actually reduced to the detriment of farmers.
Mr Zimba was reacting to the changes introduced by government on the farmer input support programme and the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) for the 2013 marketing season and beyond.
In a Press statement made available to the Daily Nation, Mr Zimba said ZNFU position was that government could not afford to reduce FISP or wean off farmers from the programme without putting in place new measures to support agriculture in the country.
He explained that farming in Zambia was still beset with many factors which have led to high cost of production such as high cost of finance, poor extension services, lack of access to finance and lack of credible research, fees , levies, numerous taxes etc.
“Therefore the Zambian farmers do not need long lectures about how good or bad the subsidies are. Even within the region, subsidies to the agriculture sector are being provided,” said Mr Zimba.
He said already in the current season maize production declined partly due to poor handling of FISP by government, adding that it was difficult to envisage that the reduction in government expenditure towards FISP will encourage crop diversification.
“Providing support to poor rural farmers in form of agricultural inputs is not a subsidy but a mandatory responsibility on the part of government. To turn away from this responsibility without providing an alternative condemns the farmers to untold poverty, misery, and puts the agriculture sector as whole on a dangerous path,” said Mr Zimba
Mr Zimba pointed out that provision of subsidies to agriculture in a country like Zambia was not only necessary but imperative if the nation was to reap full benefit and multiplier effects farming has to the economy. There was no country in the world today that developed agriculture sustainably without a strategic intervention by government.
“As such, the relevance of FISP is unquestionable because there is a general agreement that a majority of small scale farmers are not able to access credit from banks or other lending institutions,” he said.
On reforming the FRA, Mr Zimba expressed concern on the delays to enact the Agricultural Marketing Act which he said would provide a framework for a greater role for the private sector participation in agricultural commodity marketing in Zambia which the unions has been waiting for over five years.
“ZNFU is therefore frustrated by the statement that ‘in the medium to long-term, government is likely to enact legislation that will govern the marketing of agricultural commodities” which suggests apparent lack of commitment by government to implement the Act in the short term,” he said.
He said ZNFU would like to urge government to expedite implementation of the Act for the betterment and future of agriculture.