The government earlier this month suspended maize and bran exports, the Ministry of Agriculture said in a latest move to ensure availability locally. According to Statutory Instrument No. 85 of 2013, only government-to-government exports and exports by the World Food Programme (WFP) are exempted from the ban. All export permits issued before or after the release of this S.I have since been revoked.
Zambia's maize production fell 11 per cent this year after poor weather and a worm infestation impacted on yields. The 2012/13 maize output was recorded at 2.5 million tonnes from 2.85 million tonnes in the previous season.
Although industry officials have placed the total national requirement of maize at an average of 1.2 million tonnes for food, the brewery and stock feed industries, there are fears the country may experience shortages of maize and bran if exports are not banned.
Closing borders in a small market like Zambia invites the prospect of significant price volatility. Government needs to keep markets open to sustain the incentives for farmers to engage in maize production in the long term. This the PF government knows very well. In fact it said so in the manifesto. Have they stopped reading it?
The PF manifesto criticised MMD for the same thing it is doing. It said the PF believes that biggest obstacle to more rapid growth in agriculture is “the uncertainty about the MMD government’s policies on buying, importing and exporting many products...", especially for maize and wheat. It went on to observe that this "has made it difficult for the private sector to undertake investment decisions..."
The policy of banning maize exports hurts small scale farmers who we are trying to help. It's these farmers who need access to more lucrative foreign markets to increase their incomes. By the time a decision is taken to allow for exports, the prices will have come down and those opportunities gone. It is such misguided and arbitrary policies that are keeping many of our small scale farmers in perpetual poverty.
What we need is to get agriculture policy back on track by dealing with the big issues : improving commodity exchange; removing export and import restrictions; improving physical infrastructure; widening credit access to smallholder farmers; improving "market discovery" for small farmers; better investment in education and research.; targeted subsidies to support mechanised farming; and, removing distortions in fertiliser / input market by giving the private sector a greater role.
Chola Mukanga | Economist
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