Friday, 27 February 2009


By Gershom Ndhlovu


Surely, the Zambian government through the Food Reserve Agency pawned the lives of its citizens for K2 billion, yes K2 billion—not US$2 billion—profit it made by exporting maize to neighbouring countries between 2006 and 2008. Surely, a local miller or two would have been able to buy grain for local consumption at that amount.

And because of this ill-advised decision, Zambians were briefly subjected to the possibility of consuming genetically modified organisms (GMO) maize, but thanks to some eagle-eyed citizens who exposed the scam although President Rupiah Banda tried to soothe the uncomfortable situation his government found itself in by saying the nation should re-open the GMO debate.

I do not know what happened to the wisdom of those we entrust to superintend over our national affairs has evaporated to, if they had wisdom in the first place, because even the bible which they claim to follow when it suits them, says that Pharaoh through Joseph, kept grain for up to seven years as buffer for the lean years ahead.

Even the United States only gets rid of its grain after seven years which is later donated to food deficit countries, most of which, like Zambia, mismanage their own food reserves.

But again, when you look at the maize silos at former NAMBOARD depots in Kitwe, Ndola, Chambishi, Kabwe, Lusaka and Monze, these are not only in a state of disrepair, they are probably empty and the rats that accompany the presence of maize may have migrated to the countries where the maize was sold to.

When the FRA replaced NAMBOARD otherwise known as National Agriculture Marketing Board, the nation was told that the new agency would be responsible for the management of strategic food reserves. We were not told that it would be involved in the business of exporting maize.

Ideally, the FRA would mop up maize that, year in year out, lies uncollected in agricultural areas such as Kalumwange in Kaoma, in Kashinakaji in Kabompo, in Chama and other areas. But these are only peasant farmers and yet the commercial and emergent farmers also cannot have their maize bought by the FRA which still prefers to import maize at a higher cost than they would normally pay to the local producers.

Only a few weeks ago, the nation was treated to yet another maize circus when government announced that it was in the process of importing 100,000 tonnes of maize and a farmers group said its members had maize around the quantities that government was about to import. One Brian Chituwo as minister responsible for agriculture swore that the farmers were not telling the truth and the farmers insisted government was not being sincere on the issue.

It is actually ironical that the FRA should export maize in the middle of the year and six months later the nation should experience a severe maize shortage which would lead government to “desperation” to the extent of buying GMO maize abroad.

The uncertainty with which the FRA handles local maize procurements not only leaves peasant farmers vulnerable to unscrupulous traders who exchange maize for useless items like “salaula” and “Dambo” soap which they would otherwise buy themselves if the government agency bought the maize from them, it also leaves those living in border areas to sell their maize in neighbouring countries. This in turn reduces people to depend on what the Tongas call “chiholehole” otherwise knows as relief maize after selling their produce to these brief-case businessmen.

President Banda, having had been chief executive officer of NAMBOARD, should know the dynamics of maize marketing and, if needs be, change laws and policies of grain management for Zambia to avoid going through the farcical food crises and shortages that continue ravaging citizens annually.

Since its inception in the early 1990s, it is clear that the FRA has failed in its mandate and it is time we tried something else if only to make food available on our tables affordably and all year round rather than the casino situation when one does not know if he will find a bag of mealie meal affordably at that.


A few days ago, I read a story of deputy transport and communications minister Mubika Mubika ticking off opposition Monze MP Jack Mwiimbu who had criticised the Lusaka International Airport. Mubika’s response was that Lusaka International Airport (LIA) is one of the best in Africa.

I thought my failing eye-sight had deceived me and had to send for my spectacles to read it all over again. If, in deed, Mubika can describe LIA as one of the best airports in Africa, it explains why a lot of infrastructure in the country is in a shoddy state, either just constructed or through neglect. We, as Zambians, have come to accept mediocrity as a part of life and Mubika’s position on LIA is just that, accepting mediocrity.

I have been to quite a few airports in Africa, ranging from Lubumbashi airport in Congo DRC—and Kinshasa’s N’djili—to Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and I have seen the best and the worst. In my view, Lusaka is no where near the best.

There is a lot that needs to be done at LIA for it to approach the levels of airports such as Bole which has been built with the future in mind and at the moment only 30 per cent of its capacity is being utilized. I doubt very much if Lusaka International Airport can even handle two international departures simultaneously.

Disembarking at LIA is always an anti-climax of a flight from abroad, landing to a dusty airport, back to staff clearly in ennui and run-down infrastructure.

Come on Bwana Mubika, take a quick trip to Harare International Airport and see for yourself what a good airport should be because I am sure even the severe economic throes that country is experiencing, have not taken the shine out of the airport.

Lusaka International Airport is only better than Lubumbashi airport which has seen better days, no more, no less.

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