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February 01, 2012

Zambia considers setting up crop marketing board

According to the Times of Zambia, the government is considering setting up a central authority to be in charge of the marketing of various crops.

The newspaper quotes Agriculture minister Emmanuel Chenda as saying the country's current system in which the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) was the main buyer of key crops like maize was not satisfactory.
Chenda is said to have complained that amongst the problems FRA faced were poor accountability, storage facilities and quality.

Previous media reports have indicated a litany of other challenges, including the FRA delaying to pay farmers for delivered maize.

At the start of the current rain season in October 2011, there were also reports of exposed, unprotected FRA maize being rained on. The government was quick to insist that the problem was limited to a few FRA depots, and that the rain exposure was light and brief enough that the affected grain could be dried and saved.

Zambia has enjoyed bumper harvests of southern Africa's main staple crop in recent years, apparently overwhelming the country's silos. It has exported maize to several neighboring countries.

Most governments in predominantly maize-eating African countries play some role in its marketing because of its critical role for food security. But government-controlled maize (or other staple crop) marketing systems have a very uneven record in Africa. There is very frequently a clash between market forces and governments' desire to keep 'political' crops like maize affordable. Almost no African governments are willing to risk leaving maize prices entirely to market forces, especially in times of shortage, such as due to drought. But imposing price floors below prevailing market prices discourages farmers, and/or means governments subsidizing end-user prices, which is expensive and unsustainable.

Zambia's plans for a crop marketing board appear to be in their early stages, with Chenda asking for suggestions from citizens.

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