Reports about the PF government failing to pay farmers in several parts of the country that supplied maize and rice to the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) are shameful and embarrassing if not frustrating, says UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema.
Hichilema says it is painful to hear complaints from farmers not being paid long after they supplied their produce because the government alle has no money, yet they are quick to flash lots of money during by-elections.
‘The PF spent a lot of money in Mangango by-elections, let alone the 5 past by-elections that could have easily cost us 60 million kwacha. Fellow farmers 60 million kwacha would pay for 850,000 bags of maize or 1,000 farmers if each of them produced 850 bags of Maize. But we know colleagues that no subsistence farmer can produce 8oo bags of maize,’ he said.
‘We know PF have no idea that farming is a business and a source of livelihood for majority of our people. Up to 80% of rural folk are employed or earn a livelihood from agriculture. The non-payment by the PF therefore has consigned over half of our population to continued poverty.
‘To start with, farmers have been punished because of the low floor price of maize and other agriculture produce, but now they are being punished again by delays in payments. Floor price is not a problem; the problem is that this Government has not managed the input costs. Fuel subsidies were removed, this alone increased production costs. This is the reason UPND insists that farmers should know the price of agriculture produce before the farming season so that they can plan properly and grow crops that are profitable. This is also the reason we have been advocating for a robust policy on agri-business which will include market information,’ Hichilema said.
He explained that at this point of the year, (just before rains begin) ‘a farmer is supposed to have bought his seed, fertilizer, herbicides and must have already been on the schedule of that local businessman who is providing ploughing services to prepare his field. But the farmer has not been paid, so what does he do?’
Hichilema urged the PF government to prioritize farming and immediately pay farmers that supplied to FRA without any further delays.