It is about time that Government clarified the manner in which support to farmers will be conducted this year.
It is not good enough for the Government to boast about early delivery of fertilizer, when the modality of distribution is still under various contention.
The Zambia National Farmers Union has made it very clear that the proposed barter system was un-acceptable because it was archaic and anachronistic.
Our farmers are an integral a very important element of our food security infrastructure in the country and proceeding with a system that has been rejected will not only jeopardize production but will ultimately imperil food security while impoverishing farmers who are wholly dependant on agriculture production for their livelihood.
The farmers have given very clear reasons for rejecting the proposed barter system that would see farmers exchange 2 bags of maize with one bag of fertilizer.
Their argument is that farmers use income generated from maize to meet their various needs other than on purchasing fertilizer therefore tying income from two bags to fertilizer is a compulsory trade which is unacceptable in a liberal society. The government they feel should not dictate how they spend their money.
In addition the farmers union has complained that fertilizer cannot be used as a store of value because of the attendant storage and invisible costs which include interest that could be earned in the bank. It means that forcing farmers is showing total disregard of the ability to manage their own business.
In his usual candid language ZNFU president Jarvis Zimba notes that the barter system proposed by government was, “tantamount to taking farmers back to the stone and iron age in pre-colonial times where money was not the medium of exchange.”
This obviously is a bit extreme but makes a very valid point that the proposed approach by government was firstly unilateral and secondly without a precedence as there has never been a time in which farmers have been forced to engage in a product trade system that denies them freedom and latitude to utilize the results of their labour.
Our concern also is that the management of this system will be a source of considerable angst and ultimate corruption as farmers will be vulnerable to manipulation and shorthand transaction. The authority and agency of the entire system will resolve on the Food Reserve Agency or another quasi government institution that will be forced to store and transact both the maize and fertilizer. This will open a huge loophole where the two products will interchange and in the process deprive the very beneficiaries who will once again suffer at the hands of beaurocracy.
It is not too late. The government can still go back to the drawing board, consult with farmers and arrive at a much more manageable system that will be understandable, transparent and beneficial to the farmers.
It must also be remembered that the 900,000 farmers targeted by this scheme are no where near the numbers of farmers that are actually involved in production.
The very malpractices being avoided could very well resurrect with a vengeance as commercial farmers would quite happily sponsor small scale farmers who lack the means, to purchase fertilizer on their behalf.
The moral of the story is for the government to consult, consult and consult again before implementing policies.