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August 15, 2008

Zambian farmers ask for more seed, fertiliser subsidies

A Zambian farmers group said on August 12 it plans to raise white maize output to 5 million tonnes in three years from 1.2 million tonnes if the government provided more subsidised seed and fertiliser. At the same time, Zambia's government said it had increased the country's fertiliser subsidy fund to 492 billion Zambian kwacha ($145.5 million) in 2008 from 185 billion kwacha.

"With good government support for small-scale farmers, we can easily reach 3.0 million to 5.0 million tonnes within two to three seasons," said Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) president Guy Robinson. "As farmers we are ready to achieve this, but the government needs to support our efforts."

Robinson said farmers planned to raise white maize output to around 1.6 million-1.8 million tonnes from 1.2 million tonnes produced in the 2007/08 season in the immediate term before increasing production to about 3-5 million tonnes. He said several small-scale farmers had started to produce three tonnes of white maize per hectare through conservation farming but that most of the over 800,000 small scale farmers still required fertiliser to improve yields.

The government has been criticised for failing to manage its fertiliser support programme over the last few years as fertilisers ended up with non-productive small-scale farmers.

Finance Minister Ng'andu Magande separately told state media in eastern Zambia that the government would provide subsidised seed and pesticides to 200,000 small-scale farmers in 2008 compared with 125,000 farmers last year. He said the fertiliser subsidy was raised to enable farmers to grow more maize for local consumption and exports. "In order to make the fertiliser available, the government has decided to increase the level of subsidy ... for a 50 kilogramme bag of fertiliser costing 220,000 kwacha, farmers will only pay 55,000 kwacha," Magande said.

Industry experts say Zambia uses only 10 percent of more than 45 million hectares of arable farm land. The country also accounts for nearly half of total southern Africa's water mass. Most farmers were still stuck with this year's white maize as the state-run Food Reserve Agency (FRA) had not purchased the maize due to insufficient funds, he added. Robinson warned that this could discourage farmers from increasing the area on which they grow maize, and urged the private sector to offer farmers good prices. The government set a maize floor price of 45,000 kwacha in July.


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