Zambia’s maize export policy stays – Simuusa

The open border policy on maize exports has come to stay despite the on-going debates over the action taken by the Zambian government, says Agriculture Minister Wilbar Simuusa.

Mr Simuusa said Zambia 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.

“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,” he said.

Mr Simuusa was speaking at the launch of the Third Zambia Economic Brief (TZEB) by the World Bank Group in Lusaka yesterday.

He said it was gratifying to note that statements made by government on the potential and contribution of the agriculture sector to the economy have been acknowledged by cooperating partners such as the World Bank.

Mr Simuusa however explained that government needed to improve policies in order to reposition its influence on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from the current situation to much higher figure.

He said there was need to expand the export base in the agriculture sector, which he disclosed maize alone stood at about 200,000 metric tonnes this year, “and I have already approved 35,000 tonne*s”.

Mr Simuusa has appealed for improved capital investment into the sector to utilize the vast arable land and the use of the water resources available all over the country.

And Mr Simuusa has challenged small scale farmers to increase their agriculture output with the suggested adjustment of subsidized inputs from the current 900,000 tonnes to one million tonnes from the next agriculture season.

He explained that 93 percent of the total maize produce in Zambia was from the small scale farmers who were the beneficiaries of government’s planned subsidies.

“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. And World Bank lead economist Praveen Kumar advised government to encourage value added agriculture products in order to improve trade and competition in the sector.

Dr Kumar said Zambia needed to take advantage of its potential in the agriculture to provide jobs through value addition as opposed to raw exports.

“It is more beneficial to have Zambians produce with added value, rather than raw products grown in Zambia,” he said.

He said Zambia has continued to record strong economic growth, but that it was not guaranteed with increased external challenges and the tightening global financial conditions as well as the reduction in copper prices.

He charged that government was battling a high budget deficit which affected macroeconomic stability, and leading to high inflation with adverse effects on the majority poor.

And Dr Kumar has indicated the difference contributions to GDP from the extractive industry compared with agriculture.

He disclosed that according to the Zambia Economic Brief, with the 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?” he questioned.

He however cheered the upsurge in diversification of exports that Zambia has made which he said could gain momentum with good government policies.

Dr 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.