Agriculture expert Leonard Chimwaza has faulted the government for transferring the mandate to procure maize to the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) from the Agriculture Development and Marketing Cooperation (Admarc).
He said the timing is poor.
In the 2022-23 National Budget, the government indicated that K12 billion has been allocated for maize purchases by the NFRA and Admarc to replenish the Strategic Grain Reserves (SGR) as part of the total allocation to the agriculture sector.
But recently, the Ministry of Agriculture announced that it would provide funds to NFRA to conduct the maize purchase exercise to restock the SGR.
In an interview Tuesday, Chimwaza said the NFRA is not strategically located to accommodate all the farmers that may need to sell the commodity and that prices on the market have risen way above the set K220 per kilogramme.
“These institutions have different mandates, NFRA is there to stock maize for social purposes such that, in times of food insecurity, they assist but there is the marketing aspect that is there in the mandate of Admarc. They are supposed to buy from farmers at a regulated price and sell at a profit.
“If the government is looking at the social aspect then that is okay but if they aim to promote poor farmers by providing a market then Admarc was to come in. Again, as we speak, in Dowa a kg of maize is at between K160 and K170,” Chimwaza said.
He said arguments that farmers will be forming cooperatives to sell to NFRA are a non-starter considering the requirements that are there for establishing such groupings.
But in a separate interview, Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Gracian Lungu said the purpose is to restock the SGR to ensure food security in the country.
“We can choose who to buy the maize for us between Admarc and NFRA; this time around we have chosen NFRA to carry out the exercise. They are not buying the maize to sell but to keep. We will come in to check whether what they have bought is in line with the money we have provided,” Lungu said.
Meanwhile, NFRA Board Chairperson Denis Kalekeni has said procurement of the commodity is expected to start once the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority gives the authority no objection.
He said they have put modalities in place to ensure that farmers benefit, and not vendors, such as a verification exercise of farmer cooperatives.
“We want farmers to benefit; so, we will verify all those that would want to sell their maize. On the prices, those that will bring their maize to our depots will sell at K230 per kg but those that we will follow to their locations will sell at K220 per kg,”Kalekeni said.
He indicated that the government has given the agency K3 billion for the exercise.
NFRA is expected to buy 60,000 metric tonnes of maize to restock the country’s strategic grain reserves using the budgeted K12 billion.