HAKAINDE Hichilema has refused to apologize to Zambians for asserting that Government was now importing maize at US$500 a tonne having exported its stocks of US$200 per metric tonne and had started importing the grain at US$500 per metric tonne because he had all the facts about what was obtaining on the maize market.
Last week Mr. Hichilema told the BBC in an interview that the Zambian Government had acted precipitately in exporting maize before ascertaining local demand, hence creating the shortage that had forced the importation.
The Government wants Mr. Hichilema to state from which countries Zambia was importing maize from to prove his assertion.
Minister of Agriculture Given Lubinda and Food Reserve Agency officials have accused Mr. Lubinda of alarming the nation over the current food situation, because Zambia was an oasis of plenty supplying most neighboring countries both formally and informally.
“It is true we allowed some exports to allow for the creation of room for the new crop from the last season which would have gone to waste if not properly stored.” He said.
Mr Hichilema, who is United Party for National Development (UPND) president, claimed that Zambia had become food insecure because Government had sold the maize to Zimbabwe and Malawi at the rate of US$200 per metric tonne and had started importing the grain at a much higher rate than was sold.
Mr Hichilema said he found it strange that Agriculture Minister Given Lubinda could demand an apology from him for alerting Zambians about what he termed food crisis in the country.
Speaking when he received 12 Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) members of Parliament who defected to the UPND on Monday, Mr Hichilema said he was not going to apologize because he had numerical figures of the amount of maize that had been exported.
He claimed that Government had exported maize without considering how the rain pattern would be this farming season, adding that the El-Nino effect the country was experiencing was going to have adverse effects on maize production.
“The Daily Nation today has published a story in which Given Lubinda is saying HH (Hakainde Hichilema) must apologize for alerting the nation about the looming food crisis. The truth of the matter is that Government exported maize to Zimbabwe and Malawi. The Zimbabwean media reported that its food security formed part of what maize it was importing from Zambia.
‘‘In fact, Government exported the maize at US$195 per metric tonne and is now buying the grain at an exorbitant rate of US$500 per tonne.
I will not argue with Mr Lubinda because President Lungu is on record that Zambia was going to import maize from Brazil as a third option,” Mr Hichilema said.