Sunday, May 26, 2013

'Think of alternative staple foods'
By Agness Changala, Darius Kapembwa and Vincent Chilikima
Sun 26 May 2013, 14:01 CAT

ZAMBIAN Vision Foundation president Chilufya Luchembe says the current debate over the removal of maize subsidies gives Zambians an opportunity to think of alternative staple foods. And North Western Province minister Nathaniel Mubukwanu has described the decision by the government to remove fuel and maize subsidies as a step in the right direction.

Meanwhile, a Kitwe resident on Friday staged a lone protest against the anticipated increase in mealie-meal prices following the government's recent removal of fuel and maize subsidies.

Luchembe, in a statement, stated that instead of engaging in shadow boxing politics with the government over the removal of subsides, the general citizenry and all stakeholders should take the opportunity to think broadly and strategically about the national staple food and diversify into other crops.

He stated that there was nothing that forbids the country from adopting and promoting other food crops such as cassava, finger millet, rice and potatoes as national staple foods.

Luchembe stated that cassava was a drought-resistant crop that the nation could adopt alongside maize as a national staple food.

"Cassava and other crops such as finger millet, rice and potatoes demand relatively less production cost compared to maize," he stated.

Luchembe stated that countries such as South Africa, Nigeria and Tanzania, among many others, had more than one major staple meal, which had resulted in their politics being more development-focused than consumption-oriented.

Luchembe urged the Ministry of Agriculture to open up their network of diversifying the production of variety crops using the comparative advantage of every province.

And Zambia Small-Scale Farmers Network stated that subsidies to millers and consumers did not benefit the ordinary Zambian as they were working in the interest of the former who were making huge profits out of them.

Network national coordinator Boyd Liambai asked the government to establish milling plants in all districts to curtail the monopoly of the few millers that were producing mealie-meal.
He stated that the move would necessitate a reduction in mealie-meal prices in the short term.
Liambai also appealed to the government to increase the input packs to the farmers at production level to increase yields.

Global Partnership for Africa Development Limited (GPAD) regional coordinator Edward Nsama stated that subsidies on fuel and maize had for a long time been a drain on the national resources, leaving the Treasury "completely empty" and forcing the government to run its affairs on borrowed money from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and many other international lending institutions.

Meanwhile, Makesa Kalifungwa, a Kitwe businessman, on Friday wore black clothes and stuck two big posters on his body with inscriptions reading: "poor people are saying NO! Do not increase mealie-meal and fuel" in protest against the removal of fuel and maize subsidies.
He dismissed the government's explanation that the removal of subsidies was aimed at channelling funds to social sectors that would enhance poverty reduction amongst the poor people in the long term.

"Their explanation does not hold water, it simply does not add up. This decision is not in the interest of the poor people, it's against the spirit of competitiveness because our neighbours like Botswana and Zimbabwe have cheaper fuel, so investors will prefer going there and it will also affect the cost of doing business which will go up," Kalifungwa said.

He said the government should come up with a formula of identifying rich companies and individuals that did not deserve subsidies instead of generalising the matter.

Kalifungwa said maize was seen as an expensive crop to continue subsidising because there was no value addition on the commodity and that it was always sold out to neighbouring countries in raw form.

"There should be value addition on maize so that the benefits of subsidising maize could be realised through profitable sales of other maize products," he said.

Kalifungwa attracted curious onlookers as he moved around streets in the main business district.
And speaking when two Finnish government ministers and their 40-member business delegation paid a courtesy call on him, Mubukwanu said the government's bold decision to remove fuel and maize subsidies had become a contentious issue despite its socio-economic benefits to the populace.
He explained that the government saw it prudent to save K300 million every month by removing subsidies on maize, adding that the money saved would be invested in infrastructure development for the benefit of many people rather than supporting consumption.

"People in rural areas, who are the majority of the citizens, live off their own produce but face the challenges of inadequate educational and health facilities. So government wants to re-channel resources to the most critical infrastructure required by the general public," said Mubukwanu.

And after touring Kansanshi mine, Finnish Minister for International Development Heidi Hautala said she was impressed with the Zambian government's policies because they were intended to benefit the local people.

She said Zambia being a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative had demonstrated compliance to the initiative's principles by introducing financial legislation that would be of benefit to the local people and government.

Hautala explained that one of the EITI principles encouraged member countries to prudently use natural resource wealth for sustainable economic growth that contributes to sustainable development and poverty reduction.

She added that the management of natural resource wealth for the benefit of a country's citizens is in the domain of sovereign governments to be exercised in the interests of their national development.

Hautala further said transparency by governments and companies in the extractive industry and the need to enhance public financial management and accountability is an important EITI principle, adding that financial transparency enhances the environment for domestic and foreign direct investments.

"EITI is committed to encouraging high standards of transparency and accountability in public life, government operations and in business. Payments' disclosure in member countries should involve all extractive industry companies operating in that country," she said.

Hautala also assured Mubukwanu that her government had a plan to support forestry in North Western and Muchinga provinces, adding that attention would go towards environmental issues and particularly renewable resources such as tree planting.

And Finnish Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade Alexander Stubb said his first impression of Zambia is positive.

He said it was phenomenal to see how Kansanshi mine was contributing to the development of the nation and the local community.

Stubb disclosed that his business delegation was represented by 25 Finnish companies whom he was optimistic would have "a good story to tell others back home in Finland about Zambia's economic environment and investment opportunities".

Meanwhile, Kansanshi Mining Plc public relations manager Godfrey Msiska said First Quantum Minerals had raised its profile from humble beginnings to a company of international reputation, going by the frequency of international visits to the mine.

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