According to Zambian Fruit and Vegetable Traders Association President, Bernard Sikunyongana, the association has been in discussions with the Ministries of Commerce and Agriculture and is hopeful that the government is expected to lift the ban on onion imports this week.
The Association said the imports of onions will be permitted this week or next week based on the discussions that have taken place.
Sikunyongana stated that this is the only way to normalize onion prices and that if importation is delayed further, consumers will be punished because they will have to bear the cost.
He also said the government’s delay to allow the importation is what has caused onion prices to escalate and be expensive as the few farmers who have it are asking for high prices.
He said the regulation is meant to give an opportunity to farmers who have produced enough onions adding that imports are not allowed if the country has sufficient onion.
He added that imports are only allowed if the country has completely run out of onion, which is currently the case because the government does not want to have a situation where it allows the importation of onion meanwhile some farmers in the country still have the commodity.
“There’s nothing in the country and you know when a product is scarce, today you can buy at this price, tomorrow the price will be another one. What happens all these years is that every January we sit down with the ministries, ZNFU and other stakeholders and look at products which are available in the country and those which are not.
If the answer is yes we have enough of a particular agro product, the government does not allow us to import, but if the answer is no, the government allows importation”, he said.
Sikunyongana said onion imports always start in February once all the local onion has finished, therefore there has been a delay for two months now because the country currently has no enough onion which is affecting consumers.
He mentioned that stakeholders and traders ensure that they buy all the onion from both commercial and small scale farmers locally before they make the decision to start importing. He noted that the ban was temporal as it was meant to protect local farmers so that they are not stranded with their onion as imports leave farmers stranded, but now that the onion has finished, there are no farmers to protect.
“There is no farmer who still has onion now, there’s nothing completely, this is why you have seen the onion now becoming very expensive, it’s going over K300 a 10kg bag”, he told ZBT.
He also said that once local farmers start harvesting in May-June, the prices will start coming down adding that onion might delay coming on the market because of the heavy rains that have been experienced this year.
Sikunyongana also noted that there has never been a promotion for the production of onion and that is the biggest challenge the country has adding that the country stopped importing tomatoes, cucumbers and other fruits because many farmers now grow them.
He added that farmers have seen the demand for other fruits and vegetables and have increased their production that is not the same with the onion.
“Last year we had a programme with World Vision, they wanted their farmers under horticulture to start producing onions but those people had no knowledge on how to do that, we partnered with World Vision and I went to Kasama and Mpika to train the farmers starting from scratch up to selling”, he said.
He said if many NGOs can engage in such activities, the message of people producing a lot of onion can spread within a short time and the country can reduce imports but that has not happened and everyone is growing maize.
He said onion can pay farmers very well but it is unfortunate that most farmers are not aware of that.
Sikunyongana also noted that if drying facilities for onions can be set up in all the areas where onion is produced, onion importation can be a thing of the past as farmers can be producing throughout because there is a drying shade but as for now whoever produces can’t keep their onion for a long time.
“We [as an association] can provide training, that’s what we did with OXFAM last year, we provided training in Chipata, Central Province and Choma but there is no organisation that has said we can now put up a drying facility”, he said.