Friday, November 28, 2008

LETTERS - Inviting foreign farmers

Inviting foreign farmers
Written by Charles Lengalenga, Nairobi
Friday, November 28, 2008 12:15:57 PM

I have read with great sadness in the press about the new finance minister’s plan to invite foreign farmers to come and take part in the production of white maize.

It appears our leaders don’t learn from history and current precarious situations in neighbouring countries that arise out of hurried and uninformed government decisions.

Whilst we all look up to the government to provide leadership in ensuring self-sufficiency in food production, the direction the MMD government is taking to uplift our farming fortunes is not only misplaced but totally shortsighted.

The honourable minister should not look for quick fixes to solve our self-inflicted food shortages. Solutions to our food deficit problem lie within Zambia. It all depends on policies that will empower our Zambian farmers to be able to produce and not looking for foreigners to come and do it for us.

Honourable minister, land in Zambia is about much more than producing more guavas and oranges. It is our national heritage. After years of plunder and mismanagement of our natural resources, we cannot let you concession the last of our possessions - land.

Surely, liquid foreign capital should not be the excuse for inviting foreigners to come and grow food for us. It appears the minister and his advisors have run out of ideas.

We have a very good example just next door - Malawi - about how deliberate promotion of local/indigenous farmers can increase food output. Malawi simply tripled the farm subsidies - at 90 per cent discount on fertiliser and the country has more than it can consume and is even able to feed countries like Zambia. The other upside of the Malawian lesson is that the indigenous Malawians are still able to wake up the following farming season with their tracts of land still in their names!

Look at the same countries that are propagating your global approach to increasing corn/soy production by taking over tracts of land in poor Third-World countries: The US itself has been pouring billions in subsidies to its corn, wheat, cotton, soy farmers etc, including making disaster relief handouts to its farmers.

Now, these same countries have been producing so much surplus and they have time and again destroyed their "excess" stock so as to balance their demand and supply mathematics - all in their selfish capitalist interest.

For the finance minister to wake up today and say he will concession part of our land to foreigners is not only preposterous and shortsighted but smacks of a serious lack of the democtratic culture of consultation with the population and agriculture experts.

There are so many lessons that could have guided the minister to make the right policy pronouncements. Look at the way the mines have been operating. The mines have been concessioned all to the detriment of the ordinary Zambian and the only thing the ordinary Zambian is sure to reap from the mines are the acidic plumes of smelly smoke coming from the copper smelters whilst the fat profits pass right through Cairo Road to Europe and Asia!

This is a very serious proposition on the part of the minister which needs to be stopped right in its tracks before it goes anywhere. We have available alternatives. Please, stop those unnecessary remunerations to those district commissioners and redirect the cash towards the maize/soy subsidies. Stop those purchases of 4 x 4 luxury government vehicles and redirect the savings towards subsidising agricultural inputs.

Erase some of those unnecessary deputy minister portfolios and get the savings to upgrading the existing farm blocks like Mpongwe. And what are the $1billion foreign reserves doing at BOZ when part of that cash can be re-invested in short-term profit-bearing ventures? Stop the corruption first before you go out with your begging bowl.

Land means much more than growing more bananas and oranges. I wish the civil society and other concerned Zambians could wake up and stop minister Musokotwane fast.

This is one matter we should collectively address and not let a few individuals with political nests decide for us.

Foreign, local investment
Written by Patrick Mulenga, UK
Friday, November 28, 2008 12:22:50 PM

Ministers Musokotwane, Mutati and Namugala should acquaint themselves more with the world economy instead of repeating the same old 'foreign investor' messages we have heard since Chiluba's time.

There is presently little money available on foreign markets for long-term investment in developing countries or to spend on personal luxuries like foreign holidays. Period. Let us be pragmatic and focus on improving local capacity because the foreigners have already shown us that they do not have Zambia's interests at heart when the chips are down.

Namugala for instance can look at improving the quantity and quality of budget facilities to cater for the football tourists that will be in the region in 2010.

Musokotwane and Mutati can ask BoZ to release part of the US$1 billion reserves to:

1. Immediately develop a new 300-400 MW coal-fired power station at Maamba. This would take only 12-15 months to construct as opposed to the 3-5 years for a similar capacity hydro-power station, and electricity is an exportable commodity;
2. Provide soft loans to serious local companies (not mine suppliers) who will be able to create long-term employment and import-substituting products and services;
3. Recapitalise NCZ and place it under a responsible management;
4. Improve agricultural production and distribution in high rainfall areas.
All this can be accomplished if our elected leaders are focussed and not driven by selfish motives and corruption and it is certainly achievable before 2010.

Let us emulate countries like Botswana and Namibia.

Job losses in mines
Written by Mubanga Luchembe, Lusaka
Friday, November 28, 2008 12:21:40 PM

Allow me to comment on the ongoing job cuts by mining companies on the Copperbelt and North-Western provinces.

Personally, I was disappointed with the President’s statement on the same and salary increments for Cabinet ministers, MPs and other constitutional office bearers.

On one hand he says he is happy to increase salaries and allowances for constitutional office holders and in another, he says he has discouraged mining companies from retrenching employees. It boggles my mind to see our President’s double standards.

The reality is that the mining companies are trying to reduce operational costs due to low copper prices on the world market and one of the options is reducing the workforce.

Mining companies have for a long time engaged the government in dialogue regarding improvement in the mineral tax regime and nothing tangible has materialised.

Now that the mining companies have started laying off employees, our political leaders are in a state of panic. What the government should have done was freeze all salary increments, including the ones for constitutional office bearers. Though in Zambia we practise politics of benefits, the timing is bad.

The mealie-meal prices are high, jobs are not secure and the government has a bloated Cabinet which is highly remunerated. How do you reconcile such a scenario?

The global financial crisis may take months or even years, and our government should learn to adapt its economic policies in tandem with the rest of the world, ironing out the kinks and advancing with the times.

The government should keep in mind its people’s welfare and always remember that hungry people are angry people.

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