Forgotten maize farmers

IT has become clear that the Food Reserve Agency has no intention of purchasing any more maize from farmers, because the market has closed.

At the same time, millers are not particularly enthusiastic about mopping up the remaining stocks of maize because of political and price considerations.

Paramount is the political consideration. Buying maize from outlying areas where stocks are marooned involves a substantial outlay against which there is no guarantee of a commensurate return, considering that maize meal prices are the subject of considerable political debate.

At the same time the price at which the maize will be bought may vary from the amount sold or bought by the FRA, which will result in contention.

There is no doubt that Government has an eye on the market to ensure that millers pay above the FRA prices to “protect” farmers from exploitation.

Ultimately, however, it is the small farmer who will suffer the brunt of the market vagaries. Without a reliable market and poor storage facilities, the harvested crop stands the danger of being soaked with the impending rains and therefore going to waste.

Attempts by farmers to cart the maize to roadsides, for onward transportation to the line of rail to find markets, is equally out of question.

Therefore farmers have every right to demand that Government through the FRA   serves as a buyer of last resort.

It does not stand the Government in good stead to fail to pay farmers and for the FRA to close the market  because it has bought enough stocks. Farmers across the country have been encouraged to produce and indeed from all accounts they have produced a bumper harvest with an expectation of the maize serving their household food security and the balance being sold for cash to service their other needs.

It will not do to tell the farmer in Kaputa that the market has closed nor indeed that Government has no money. How are they expected to meet their needs?

The Government made a commitment to put more money in people’s pockets and the farmers have responded in kind by toiling hard to produce maize, tobacco, cotton and other produce which the Government as matter of obligation must buy.

If Government will borrow, it must do so to pay these hard working people who have something to show for their effort. There is no doubt that the social contract on which this Government was elected includes the assurance to farmers that their produce will not go to waste.

It will be most unfortunate if Government conducts itself in a manner that will confirm farmers’ worst fears that this is Paya Farmer Government.

If the worste comes to the worst we would expect that the Office of the Vice President, Contingency Department, should mop up the surplus produce for distribution to the many deficit areas.

Disaster management must encompass preventing household disasters such as farmers who languish in poverty because their effort is allowed to go to waste.