An aerial view of combines harvesting a wheat field.

An Agricultural research institute says Zambia needs to urgently harness large-scale commercial farmers’ potential to produce winter maize for export under irrigation to reduce smuggling.

The Indaba Agricultural Policy and Research Institute (IAPRI) says the country needs to embrace a well-managed formal export trade regime to increase foreign exchange and food security to unlock the local maize supply chain.

According to IAPRI’s Advisory Note for Government on Opportunities and Challenges in Enhancing Agricultural Development in Zambia, without consistent policy, large-scale farmers will continue to shun maize production, hence the need for Government and stakeholders to keep a close eye on the effects of the La Niña phenomenon.

La Niña is a joined ocean-atmosphere phenomenon that is the counterpart of El Niño as part of the broader El Niño-Southern Oscillation climate pattern which has extensive effects on the weather.

“Given the high cost of producing early maize, this will require export off-takers and policy guarantees from Government on exports. To kick start such a project, it could be run as a pilot with institutions such as the World Food Programme as a potential off-take.

“The early maize programme should be up-scaled to ensure that Zambia secures its export market, if there are adverse effects, and the country should trigger the production of winter maize timeously to effectively allow Zambia exploit its production potential,” the statement reads.

Last year, the country earned over US$170 million from maize grain exports and has the potential to earn more significantly.

IAPRI said a well-managed price stabilisation policy to allow clear triggers for maize purchases and a release by the Food Reserve Agency needs to be formulated.

This will allow normal seasonal price fluctuations to take place, which is a key ingredient for encouraging private sector investments into the agriculture sector.

IAPRI said maize grain and maize meal should be sold at market price to avoid creating distortions that discourage investments into the agricultural sector, and instead create huge government budget deficits.