JERVIS Zimba has charged that the Patriotic Front government is treating farmers like idiots by failing to engage them before making critical decisions that affect the industry.
And Zimba, a local farmer and former Zambia National Farmers Union president, says increased electricity tariffs will terribly cripple irrigation farming and eventually trigger high prices of wheat and soya beans.
Meanwhile, Zimba says agriculture minister Given Lubinda is fooling President Edgar Lungu, who aspires to run an agricultural-based economy, by lifting the ban on importation of milk.
“I remember that under Levy Mwanawasa’s government, there was an unwritten rule that before any decision which affects farmers is taken, farmers had to be consulted. But now, it’s like farmers are just idiots…this government is treating farmers like idiots who can’t be consulted,” Zimba lamented.
President Lungu recently directed that electricity tariffs be immediately raised to a cost-reflective level to attract new investments in the energy sector and the Energy Regulation Board has since allowed Zesco to hike tariffs by up to 70 per cent.
But Zimba said such a move should not be all-encompassing.
He added that Zesco and the government must consider revising the excessive electricity tariffs to bail out farmers, mainly those who are engaged in irrigation farming.
“Zesco and government have increased electricity tariffs and that will increase the price of electricity and I want to say that that is the last nail hit on whichever farmer is engaged in irrigation farming. Be it irrigating tomatoes, cabbages, wheat, soya beans, the increase in electricity tariffs will bring terrible effects on such type of farming,” Zimba said in an interview. “A few years back when Mwanawasa was president, we negotiated for a different rate for farmers who were doing irrigation and government listened and Zesco gave farmers a special rate. This thing of electricity tariffs is done world over but farmers get different rates to avoid implications on the production cost. So they now need to revisit that tariff immediately because they cannot increase electricity tariffs wholesomely.”
He cautioned that if no tariff revision was made for farmers, the cost of producing wheat and soya beans would skyrocket, resulting in expensive wheat products and stockfeed.
“Right now, many farmers are irrigating soya beans to germinate because of the less rains and that means the cost of production is going to shoot up. Secondly, after they harvest the soya beans, they are going to take in wheat and I want you to imagine what will be the cost of wheat and bread. The cost of bread now is within the range of K7 to K10; that’s before these electricity tariffs were increased, but the cost of bread will go even further up because of the high cost of production of wheat,” Zimba said. “So let the government know that bread prices will never come down and the same goes for the price of soya beans because farmers are irrigating, with increased electricity tariffs, to grow it. Therefore the price of stockfeed is going to go up and even the price of chicken is going to go up. Let the government realise that they don’t have to make decisions wholesomely just to please a few people.”
And Zimba said Lubinda is up to fooling President Lungu by lifting the ban on milk imports.
“What he should have been preaching now is ‘gentlemen, there is a bit of a shortage in this country and can you up the production or just visit dairy farmers to understand their challenges?’ So this idea to import milk will be a total disaster for this country because what we are going to see now is that every Jim and Jack will be given a permit to flood the market with imported milk,” said Zimba. “We understand we are not consuming enough milk as Zambians but I pity the President when he says ‘agro-economy’ and then one of his ministers says ‘I have lifted the ban on milk.’ If Lubinda says we are consuming very little milk, what does he mean? It’s okay for us to consume even a teaspoon as long as that milk is locally-produced than consuming litres of milk that is imported.”