Our concern has always been with those on the tail end of the social services scale, the poor rural peasants who are the majority marginalized citizens with no direct consumption benefit from the subsidies that are being removed.
These small scale farmers have benefitted from the Farmer Input Support Programme that has contributed national maize which has also ensured food security at family level. The sussidy was to produce more and not for consumption.
Therefore, the announcement that farmers contribution to the Farmers Input Support Programme has been increased from K50 to K100, thereby reducing Government support which would be eventually cut off has major implications and has been met with considerable trepidation.
The farmers union has according issued a stern warning that maize production would decline drastically and the national food security situation would be put at risk if small scale farmers were weaned off FISP without putting in place new alternative programmes for financing agriculture.
Although commendable and perhaps sound in terms of macro economic planning the step will have deleterious effects on the very people that are vulnerable and yet hold the potential to produce food that will make Zambia a breadbasket of the region as the case has been in three successive seasons when bumber harvests were achieved, thanks to the contribution of peasants.
These are the people who will now suffer a double blow. First the input support programme will now demand more from them, while the overall inflation arising from increased fuel prices will hit them below the belt.
They were already having difficulties meeting their share of K50; there is little indication that they will be able to raise K100. Ultimately as the Farmers Union has stated the result will be a decline in production and a danger to national food security.
What is most frustrating is that Government had proceeded to make such an important policy decision without consulting with the farmers.
This was wrong.
However it is not too late the Union has indicated its willingness to cooperate with Government in the implementation of establishing an alternative financing programme that will target the rural poor farmers.
They have in mind such institutions as rural banks where farmers could secure agricultural inputs on such terms as would be manageable to them.
We would like to urge the Government to take the offer from the farmers union seriously and endeavour to put in place amelioration measures before great damage is done to the farming community which has been left bewildered by the sudden measures announced by Government.
It is amazing that Government could have considered introducing a FISP barter arrangement system without consulting the farmers who are engaged in the industry. Predictably it has been ruled as untenable because farmers use maize income to meet other spending needs other than fertilizer and that such decisions should not be made by Government.
The Government should not be working for the people but with the people to ensure that programmes implemented are truly reflective of the wishes and concerns of the people, rather than those of the political leadership.