Friday, December 05, 2008

(LUSAKATIMES) Government forms Food Task Force

Government forms Food Task Force
December 5, 2008

GOVERNMENT has formed a task force to tackle the rising food prices. The task force will come up with a national action plan and bring out interventions needed in the short, medium and long-term. The task force will be chaired by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives.

Chief Government spokesperson, Ronnie Shikapwasha, said this at a press briefing in Lusaka yesterday. He said Government had taken note of the concerns expressed by various people and organisations about the state of food security in the country and how this had impacted on the prices of mealie meal and its availability.

Gen Shikapwasha, who is also Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services said Government was aware that a number of districts were facing food insecurity arising from a number of factors.

These factors include the general rise in food prices, effects of the failure of the global economic systems, irresponsible sale of maize in some communities and households and the floods experienced last rainy season. Gen Shikapwasha said Government was taking appropriate interventions to prevent people in any part of the country from starving. The government has estimated the shortfall at 100,000 metric tonnes.

“Government is currently assessing the level of food insecurity in parts of the country that experienced floods or poor rainfall and is moving maize from surplus to deficit areas,” he said.

Gen Shikapwasha said there would be need to import the shortfall to last until May next year when the nation would rely on its own produce.

He said Government would continue providing relief food to people in areas that experienced food shortages because of floods.

Gen Shikapwasha said this would be one of the main activities within the rehabilitation programme.

He said Government had so far distributed 5,714 metric tonnes of maize out of which 3,254 metric tonnes had gone to Southern Province which was the most affected by the floods.

Gen Shikapwasha said the exercise would continue throughout all affected areas.

“Government’s only concern is that some people who have maize or can afford to buy mealie meal want to be listed among relief food beneficiaries, and some wards currently benefiting from relief food are more secure than those left out,” he said.

Gen Shikapwasha said Government was reviewing the situation to see if new vulnerable people could be taken on board.

He said Government through the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) would continue to conduct rapid vulnerability and needs assessment.

He said the findings of the vulnerability and needs assessment would inform Government on how much various parameters had changed.

“I wish, however, to point out that there is no need for panic and people should not be misled by those trying to make political mileage out of this situation,” Gen Shikapwasha said.

He said the rising mealie meal prices should not be used as an issue to incite unrest in the country because Government was taking all necessary measures to address it.

“Moreover, it’s misleading to suggest, as the Patriotic Front has done, that President Rupiah Banda promised to reduce mealie meal prices,” Gen Shikapwasha said.

He said President Banda emphasised the need to increase food production and increased subsidy on fertiliser for beneficiaries under the Fertiliser Support Programme (FSP) so that peasant farmers could increase production.

Gen Shikapwasha assured the people of Zambia that there was no need for the planned protects by the PF cadres.

He said information obtained yesterday from the provinces showed that the highest wholesale price for breakfast meal was K57,000 for 25 kilogrammes while roller meal was pegged at K51,000.

Gen Shikapwasha said some retailers added a mark-up of K10,000.

He was concerned that there was a big variance of retail prices between the line of rail and the rural towns.

“The difference is explained by the cost of transportation of either maize or mealie meal from surplus to deficit areas,” Gen Shikapwasha said.

He said the task force on the rising food prices was studying the matter and was expected to advise Government on how best to deal with the situation.

Gen Shikapwasha said PF president Michael Sata was supposed to seek dialogue with Government or look at the interventions in place.

He said the fertiliser issue had also been taken out of context because neither President Banda nor Government promised to reduce the price of fertiliser across the board.

Gen Shikapwasha said the subsidised fertiliser was not for the open market but for targeted people belonging to cooperatives and benefiting from the FSP.

On the recent job losses on the mines, Gen Shikapwasha said Government would ensure that it negotiated with the mining companies to find ways of mitigating the situation.

On the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, Gen Shikapwasha said Government was concerned about the situation.
He said Zambian officials would only intervene in the matter when their Zimbabwean counterparts invite them.

[Zambia Daily Mail]

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