Food is important for the health and survival of all citizens. Food security therefore remains at the centre stage of every progressive government’s agenda.
This is why President Lungu has been working towards boosting the agriculture sector since assuming office last year, and after his re-election last month.
President Lungu has said it time and again that apart from ensuring food security in the country, he wants Zambia to become the food basket for the region and beyond.
In a bid to diversify Zambia’s economy, which has been largely dependent on mining, President Lungu envisions agriculture as the country’s economic mainstay in the near future.
The appointment of Dora Siliya as new Minister of Agriculture therefore comes with a lot of responsibilities and expectations considering the importance of the sector.
The first responsibility is to ensure food security especially that the country has been grappling with illegal exports of Zambia’s staple food, maize.
It is assuring that the newly appointed minister seems geared for the daunting task ahead.
After being sworn in, Ms Siliya said she will immediately get to work on ensuring national food security by curbing maize smuggling to neighbouring countries.
In the recent past, unscrupulous businessmen have taken advantage of the yawning market in the neighbouring countries to smuggle maize, thereby risking the country’s food security.
The fact that Zambia recorded an above-average maize production of 2.87 million metric tonnes in the 2015/2016 season, no Zambian should be allowed to starve.
While it is good neighbourliness to help our neighbours in need, Zambia’s primary responsibility is to put food on the citizens’ tables. It is only when Zambia secures enough stocks that the excess can be exported.
However, this year the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) has had challenges in purchasing maize from farmers due to a competitive market.
While FRA is offering K85 for a 50kg bag of maize, private buyers are offering a lucrative K100.
To make matters worse, while FRA payment is done after about two weeks at distant pay points, the private buyers are offering cash right at the doorsteps of farmers.
As at August 25, 2016, the agency had only bought 220,404 metric tonnes of maize against the target of 1,000,000.
The minister needs to move in quickly to boost the purchase of maize by FRA if food security is to be guaranteed.
If we do not stock enough maize in our national reserves, then we risk having high mealie meal prices in the near future, which is an error for a country which recorded an above-average maize production the last farming season.
It is however good that Government is not sitting idly by but has put in place measures to safeguard national food security. Government, apart from banning the exports of maize until the country is food-secure, has also demanded that players in maize trade focus on meeting the domestic demand for maize and mealie meal.
Law enforcement agencies have also been put on alert to closely monitor international border points to curb illegal exports of maize and by-products.
Government, through the National Stocks Committee, is keeping track of the maize stocks in the country.
There is need to also boost Zambia’s agricultural output to be able to cater for both domestic and foreign markets.
As the minister rightly pointed out, Zambia is endowed with many water bodies and land which must be used to position the country as a major exporter of food in the region.
We could not agree more with Ms Siliya that for Zambia to assume the role of being the food basket in the region, there is need to invest in agricultural infrastructure and research and development.