The apology by the Minister of Agriculture is a good starting point.
The admission that the input supply programme had been bungled up was in fact an understatement that belies a major catastrophe that has befallen most small scale farmers in the country who are now faced with the prospect of serious domestic food deficit.
Sadly the combination of input deficit and outbreak of army worm infestation has affected the most productive areas of the country creating a real concern that relief maize may have to be sourced to provide for the needs of these communities.
Already as the situation stands the Eastern Province is in the throes of major food deficit with peasants lining up in town for the limited supply of maize meal because they do not have sufficient stocks in their granaries.
The combination of these factors, input supply problem, marketing deficiency and poor pricing will affect both the commercial and peasant farmer output for this year.
Instead of simply moaning about the situation it is necessary that serious remedial measures are taken to ensure that the situation we confronted this year does not repeat itself.
Some of changes demand fundamental institutional re-organization, re-orientation and total overhaul.
The very first priority should be an acceptance by Government of the principle of positive partnership with the private sector, namely that private business has as much contribution and influence in the final implementation of public policy just as Government itself has the ultimate mandate of formulating policy.
There is always a temptation for Government to conceptualize and ultimately formulate unilateral policies, as the case has been with the Bank of Zambia Act amendments which have introduced foreign exchange control.
These changes have met resistance from Zambia’s largest cash cow the mining industry which has complained of lack of consultation in the formulation of policy. Sadly for Government all other private players including the Farmers Union and the Manufacturers Association have expressed the same misgivings about the amendments.
Like in all other matters Government will have the ultimate authority to drive the policy, but the business sector will grudgingly oblige while scouting for loopholes.
This is the nature of business.
It need not have been the case. Government and private business are partners, perhaps with different and perhaps competing interests, but partners nevertheless in ensuring the cultivation, nurture and indeed exploitation of the many resources that the country is endowed with.
Under UNIP the Government decided to control the means of production as a way of ensuring that the nation was not exploited negatively. The reasoning was simple; you can not control that which you do not own- hence wholesale nationalization.
This however resulted in the flight of capital and subsequent undercapitalization which led to the deterioration of plant and equipment, decline in production and non availability of products.
The moral of the story is that Government must limit itself to those things it does best and leaves the rest to the experts and investors from whom efficiency and productivity can be expected.
The same is true of the agriculture sector which has tremendous private sector participation. Unless the Government works with the private sector meaningfully without imposing impossible controls the sector will continue to decline to the detriment of the nation generally and citizens particularly who will continue to face food deficits.