SPEECH FOR HIS EXECELLENCY, THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF ZAMBIA, MR. RUPIAH BWEZANI BANDA, AT THE OCCASION OF THE 104TH ZNFU ANNUAL CONGRESS, HELD AT MULUNGUSHI INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE, LUSAKA ON 14TH OCTOBER 2009
The President of the Zambia National Farmers’ Union
Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives
Honourable Cabinet Ministers
Trustees and Board of Directors of Zambia National Farmers’ Union
The Head of NEPAD-CAADP
Chief Executive Officer –ACTESA-COMESA
Members of the Diplomatic Corp
Members of Parliament
Ladies and Gentlemen
May I start by saying that I am very pleased to be here at the occasion of the 104th Zambia National Farmers’ Union Annual Congress. While this is my first time to address the ZNFU Annual Congress since becoming your Republican President, I have had a lot of interaction with your leadership, particularly your Board and the ZNFU President. I must also hasten to inform you that I am a committed farmer and a proud member of the Zambia National Farmers’ Union.
Mr. President, I am pleased to observe that our Union has maintained its long standing philosophy of being non- partisan, and has upheld the principle of working with the Government of the day. My Government is happy with the manner in which the Zambia National Farmers’ Union has continued to make presentations to Government on issues affecting the farmers.
Through continued dialogue with the Union my Government has been able to understand and comprehend various problems facing the farmers and together within the short period I have been President, we have managed to resolve some of the issues affecting our agricultural sector.
Mr. President, I wish to assure you that my Government will relentlessly continue to place agriculture on the top of the development agenda. Admittedly there are a number of challenges that are affecting the farmers in our country today, and some of these problems have been with us for a long time and cannot be resolved overnight. What is important therefore is for us to double our efforts and remain steadfast through open dialogue and true partnership between the Government and the farmers, if we are to succeed.
I would like to reiterate the statement I made in Mkushi in April this year that my desire is to create a true rainbow nation where both large and small scale, whites and blacks will work together in harmony and oneness in developing our country’s agricultural sector. I pledge to provide equal support to all farmers. My Government fully appreciates the need to develop both the small and large scale farmers into a viable commercial agricultural community because this is the only way our agriculture sector will be competitive in the region.
Mr. President, I would like to see a policy shift that will focus on export led agricultural growth. For some time now we have continued to make pronouncements that there is a huge market potential available in neighboring countries, yet as country we have not taken advantage of these market opportunities. Therefore my Government has committed itself to providing a supportive policy environment that will engulf the policy shift towards export led agricultural growth while consolidating our national food security achievements.
In that way, our country will truly become the bread basket of the region and also bring in the much needed foreign exchange in the country.
Mr. President, I have no doubt that once this policy shift is enshrined in all our agricultural investment programs, the contribution of the agricultural sector to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will significant improve beyond the current levels of 12.5%.
I must say that I found your theme for this year’s annual congress; “The farmer, key to food security and climate change mitigation” appropriate in that over the last five years, Zambia has been relatively food secure and a surplus producer in comparison to other neighboring countries. This is all because of our hard working farmers who have continued to work hard in order to produce enough food to feed ourselves and of course coupled with Government policy consistency in the agriculture sector. In last agricultural season, as a country we recorded yet another bumper harvest. Mr. President may you allow me to congratulate the farmers for their hard work and for doing us proud. It is true you are the key to national food security of our mother Zambia.
Mr. President, while my Government appreciates the many problems farmers face today allow me to make brief comments on the following:-
My Government fully comprehends the problems of marketing farmers face year in year out.
It is for this reason that during my press conference in June this year, I did direct the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Ministry of Finance and National Planning working together with the Union and other key stakeholders to consider the proposal of establishing a Private Public Partnership Marketing institution. Government intervention through the Food Reserve Agency is not sustainable and inadequate to resolve the problems of marketing. Therefore the need to establish a robust and well thought out marketing institution using both public and private resources is not only essential but and an urgent one. I am convinced that this will be the only plausible way of resolving the long standing problems of marketing. I am yet to receive a report on what progress has been made on this proposition. I therefore expect that the new outfit in whatever form it shall be should be ready to participate in the forthcoming marketing season.
Mr. President, in the meantime my Government has allocated more resources to FRA to enable the Agency buy this year’s crop from farmers.
My Government has demonstrated its commitment in the provision of inputs to farmers through the Farmer Input Support Program (FISP) formerly FSP. I am pleased to announce that as promised in April this year, all the inputs particularly fertilizers were in all the districts by August. May I urge the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives to ensure that inputs reach the farmers on time. I will not accept any delay in the delivery of inputs to farmers.
My Government is aware of the concerns that have been raised regarding the effectiveness of the current input support program, I am however informed that some improvements have made to the mode of selecting the beneficiaries so that only genuine farmers access the inputs. Under the new approach the distribution of inputs and identification of beneficiaries will be done by the Camp Agricultural Committees comprised of farmers’ associations/groups, traditional and church leadership. Therefore my Government is expecting fewer problems in the identification of beneficiaries. What is more pleasing is that the number of beneficiaries has more than doubled to about 500, 000 farmers in comparison to the previous years.
Mr. President, my Government is aware of the high cost of inputs. Government is considering means and ways of providing inputs subsidy across the board to all farmers as soon as it is practically possible.
Cost of Production and Agricultural Competitiveness
My Government is aware of the increased cost of agricultural production which has continued to make our agriculture sector uncompetitive rendering farming an unattractive occupation. It is for this reason that last month I gave a directive during the official opening of the Fourth Session of Tenth National Assembly, to abolish Council Levies as one way of reducing the cost of production and also alleviating the difficulties farmers were going through when marketing their farm produce. Therefore my Government will continue exploring ways in which the cost of production can be brought down to levels that would stimulate agricultural productivity and competitiveness.
Regarding your request to introduce a Famer Tariff for electricity, I have directed the Ministry of Energy to ensure that ZESCO introduces the Farmers’ Tariff in order to make our agricultural sector competitive.
While my Government policy is to promote free market economy, it shall not be done at the expense of our infant and fragile agricultural sector. Therefore my Government pledges to remain steadfast in protecting local agricultural industry from cheap imports by ensuring that no imports are brought in the country at the expense of local products.
Earlier in the year, Government issued a statutory instrument banning imports of wheat and wheat products so as to protect the wheat industry from total collapse. Due to this intervention, the wheat industry has continued to grow giving rise to job opportunities to our Zambian people and this position shall be maintained.
Mr. President, the problem of funding is as difficult as that of marketing. Recent studies have shown that there is more than double the demand for finance than what is available on financial market. Not only is the finance in short supply and difficult to access, but also very expense. May I urge the financial institutions to provide adequate finance to the agricultural sector and on reasonable terms which are affordable to farmers. Why is it that the cost of borrowing is higher than any other country in the region? I have directed the Bank of Zambia to hold discussions with commercial banks so as to find a solution to the costs of finance.
My Government is also aware of the financial problems affecting some of the major commodities such as coffee, horticultural and other non-traditional exports, where sharp decline in production has been recorded. I have directed the Ministries of Finance and National Planning, and Agriculture and Cooperatives to work closely with the Union to find a lasting solution of funding to the farmers in these subsectors. It is not pleasing that the decline in production is happening at the time when the world prices are becoming attractive for coffee for instance.
Mr. President, I am pleased however to learn that there is an Agricultural Finance Committee that has been established chaired by the Secretary to Treasurer and comprising of the Zambia National Farmers’ Union, Bank of Zambia, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives and Bankers Association of Zambia aimed at finding plausible solutions to the problems of agricultural financing. As Government we are expecting nothing less than good and practical solutions to challenges of Agricultural financing. I will be waiting to receive the report on the outcome of this committee. My Government will continue to provide stead increase in the budget allocation to agricultural sector until we attain the Maputo Declaration which has set a target of 10% of the national budget to the agricultural sector.
Mr. President, I have directed the Ministry of Finance and National Planning to immediately revise the tax regime and revert to pre-2004 tax status which provided for VAT zero rating of all agricultural input supplies and also provide more incentives to the agricultural sector.
Irrigation and Farm Mechanization
My Government is committed to ensuring that the Irrigation Fund is created so that irrigation schemes for small scale, emergent and large scale farmers are established. As I stated in my address during the official opening on the 3rd Session of the Tenth National Assembly in January this year, my Government has devised intervention measures designed to mitigate the adverse impacts of the escalating food prices and food shortages by enhancing resource allocation to irrigation thereby promoting the use of irrigation and tap into this vast potential resource as one of the solutions to this big challenge.
Mr. President, admittedly not much progress has been made in this area, but I want to assure the farmers that my Government is committed to ensuring that the long standing issue of the need to establish an Institution dedicated for Irrigation development is implemented without any further delay.
On the issue of small scale farmers’ mechanisation, I am pleased to announce that my Government has started implementing this program. The National Tractor Hire and Mechanisation program was launched in September this year and it will cover the whole country.
Mr. President. Allow me to touch on the issue of Climate Change as per your theme. I totally agree with your theme that in mitigating the effects of climate change, farmers are key to this cause. Therefore I wish to urge all farmers to adopt appropriate agricultural production methods and practices such as conservation farming in order to reduce the effect of climate change.
Mr. President, my Government is aware that the Union through the Conservation Farming Unit has been an ardent promoter of conservation agriculture for over 14 years to the extent that Zambia is now a regional role model and leader in the promotion of conservation agriculture. Congratulations and please continue and do not relent. May I also take this opportunity to thank our cooperating partners particularly the Norwegian Government for their continued support to conservation agriculture in Zambia through the Conservation Farming Unit of the ZNFU.
In conclusion Mr. President, I want to assure the farmers that the agriculture sector shall remain a priority sector of my Government and I shall do everything possible to make sure that our farmers remain in business and continue producing enough for the country and for export. I cannot agree more with your slogan of No farmer, No food, No future.
May I also thank all our cooperating partners who have continued to support my government in the agricultural sector and also our Guests and Friends who came to dialogue with us from other farmers’ organizations in the region. I wish them God’s Blessings and safe passage back home. This is how it should be that as a region we need to share and exchange ideas.
To my fellow farmers, I wish you all a good planting season ahead.
I thank you all and God Bless you