Expert warns of continued slumps in crop yieldsExpert warns of continued slumps in crop yields
By Joan Chirwa
Tuesday June 19, 2007 [09:34]
AN agricultural expert has warned of continued slumps in crop yields if commodity prices are not improved during marketing seasons. And agriculture and co-operatives minister Ben Kapita said low commodity prices, coupled with droughts and floods in some parts of the country, had affected production in this year’s harvest season.
Meanwhile, Kapita has U-turned on his decision to allow maize exports after the announcement of this year’s crop forecast; this time saying, “the commodity will only be sold out of Zambia as soon as the Stocks Monitoring Committee spearheaded by the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) advises the ministry to do so.”
Small Holder Enterprise and Marketing Programme Agribusiness Development
Component (SHEMP-ADC) team leader Gerrit Struyf told the Business Post that farmers had been switching from one crop to another because of uncompetitive prices being offered in different sectors.
“People think farmers don’t respond to prices. This should serve as a lesson for the whole agricultural industry. Farmers should not be taken for granted,” Struyf said. “It is important to look at ways of how the farmers can be earning reasonable amounts of money from their produce because this situation of low prices actually applies to many crops.”
Struyf gave an example of the cotton industry where over 35 per cent of farmers withdrew from production during the 2006/2007 farming season.
This was largely due to low prices offered during the previous marketing season where a kilogramme of seed cotton was fetching around K850.
There has been a remarkable improvement in cotton prices this year with an increase of about 32 to 35 per cent over last year’s prices.
Most ginners are buying a kilogramme of seed cotton at between K1,170 and K1,250.
“Farmers need to get proper prices for their produce. If buyers set good prices, then yields can also be improved,” said Struyf, who predicted a slump in this years’ cotton production prior to the farming season. “I however commend efforts made by the Cotton Association of Zambia (CAZ) and the ginning companies in agreeing on prices for this years’ cotton. This is likely to reverse the situation during the next farming season and most farmers will definitely get back to cotton production.”
Maize production for this season has also recorded a slight reduction, down by about four per cent to 1,366,158 metric tonnes from 1,424,439 metric tonnes recorded the previous season.
Kapita said the reduction in maize production is mainly due to floods and droughts, but could however not state whether low prices for the commodity had a direct impact on the output.
“Well, the low maize production this year is mainly because of the drought which affected about 41 districts and I cannot say the price of maize is very bad,” Kapita said. “Where there is a problem is the cotton and tobacco industries. These two crops are mainly exported and last years’ prices plunged because of the appreciation of the kwacha. I agree that low prices for these two crops had tremendously affected production this year, and I hope things will change for the better.”
Kapita however indicated that he was happy with negotiations that had taken place in the cotton industry and hoped a similar situation could happen in the tobacco sector.
“I’m at least satisfied with what CAZ and ginners have done to agree on prices. At least am happy because this will bring sanity to the whole industry,” Kapita said.
“The problem is still with the tobacco sector. Buyers have continued to determine the price of inputs and the price of the crop after production. This should not be the case. I expect the Tobacco Board of Zambia (TBZ) to be engaging in serious negotiations with companies financing tobacco production to ensure that good prices are offered to farmers.”
And Kapita has he would only allow maize exports after a recommendation is passed by the Stocks Monitoring Committee.
He recently promised that the government would lift a suspension on maize exports to neighbouring countries after the announcement of this year’s crop forecast, but has however reversed his decision.
“What is worrying me and why I decided to suspend the exports of maize is the level of smuggling taking place,” Kapita said. “I don’t want people to starve in this country. But looking at the surplus maize of about 250,000 metric tonnes, exports will be allowed as soon as I get a recommendation from the Stocks Monitoring Committee.”
Zambia’s annual maize requirement totals 1.5 million metric tonnes and the country is likely to have around 1.7 million metric tonnes of maize in addition to the 433,000 metric tonnes of carryover stocks.