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Statement on Agriculture and Food Security

 

Statement on Agriculture and Food Security
 
Zambia Episcopal Conference

 

 
10 August 1994

 

 

 

 

One of the major elements of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in Zambia has been agricultural liberalisation, the removal of Government from an active role in production and marketing of food. But the consequences of the rapid and rigid implementation of this policy have been disastrous for the agricultural sector and painful for the majority of farmers in Zambia, the peasant farmers. The Bishops’ Statement comes in the midst of the agricultural crisis and emphasises that production of food is not an ordinary economic activity but it has a pecial character as relating to the sustenance of life for the people. Hence it cannot be treated simply as another marketable item subject to the abstract laws of liberalisation. A strong section on theological perspectives, relying on scripture, is followed by specific policy recommendations that emphasise as the first priority of a good economy the provision of adequate food for the people.

Introduction

    The Nation has once again entered a new crop marketing season, amidst a host of unresolved problems in the marketing of maize and other farm produce. Maize is a basic commodity that sustains the life of our people, and therefore a priority in economic policy. These problems amount to a punishment and marginalisation of the farmers. These problems also pose a serious threat to the ability of the Nation to feed itself, and constitute the cry of the farming community, especially of the poor peasants. This is the cry we want to address in this letter. This Statement is addressed to all Catholics and people of good will who are involved in policy making.
  1. Over the past few months, we have been observing what has been happening to the economy, and particularly the agricultural sector on which we all depend for sustenance. The Episcopal Conference notes with concern the rapid and not well-planned withdrawal of the State from the regulation of the economy in Zambia. We have observed with particular concern the inadequate allocation of resources to the agricultural sector.

  2. Lack of regulation has resulted in non-payment of some farmers, destitution of the rural producers, delays in the transportation of produce, unscrupulous business practices, and other associated problems explained below. If this situation continues unchecked, the likelihood of precarious food supplies, and volatile food prices will grossly compromise the food security of the Country.

    Current Agricultural Policy

  3. Agriculture, like other sectors of the economy in Zambia, has been liberalized under the on-going Structural Adjustment Program. But the National issue of agriculture and food security cannot be left to the whims of ‘market forces.’ The Government has the obligation to intervene and regulate the economy, more especially the agricultural sector, in order to ensure adequate supplies of food, and also to ensure just remuneration for all those who labour to feed the Nation.

  4. Government policy for agriculture, and in relation to maize marketing, states that maize marketing is liberalized; everyone is free to engage in the procurement, storage processing and distribution of maize and its main by-product mealie meal. Whereas in the 1992/93 marketing season there were Government approved marketing agents and dealers, who were provided with public funds to buy and distribute maize, in the 1994/95 guidelines there are no such agents. There are also some indications of several other measures such as the ‘crop storage construction fund’, maize and fertilizer revolving funds, lease of storage facilities, information, transitory support services, as well as “partial repayment of the outstanding marketing credit in the form of some of the maize stocks held by the principal Maize Buying Agents”. The policy further states “in spite of the recent dry-spell affecting the overall maize supply position in the Country, the Ministry does not intend to divert from its mid-term goal to liberalize further the marketing process”.

    Consequences Of The Policy

  5. Unfortunately the policy pronouncements on paper do not match the actual experiences on the ground. The experience of the marketing arrangements in the 1992/93 seasons can only be described as messy and disastrous. Blessed by sufficient rains, maize production, which was 5.4 million 90-kilogram bags in 1992 rose to 17.8 million bags, in 1993. This enabled the Nation to recover from the impact of the 1992 drought.

  6. But this blessing was only to be wasted by the inadequacies of the liberalization policy, characterized by weak institutional capacity, and over-dependence on foreign aid. Consequently, farmers, especially the small-scale farmers, were put at a disadvantage. Many were cheated out of their maize by unscrupulous traders and dealers who for example exchanged maize for groceries at ridiculously low prices e.g. a fifteen kilogram tin of maize worth well over K1,500.00 exchanged for two tablets of soap worth only K400.00

  7. Funds were inadequate as out of the total K50 billion required to market the 17.8 million bags only K15 million was allocated, in fact to acquire the strategic reserve of 2 million bags. And payments to farmers were badly managed as public funds given to buying agents, some of whom included public servants, were diverted into treasury bills, and farmers not paid for more than eight months after delivery of their produce. For example, by April 1994, K3.2 billion was still owed to farmers by the Principal Buying Agents for maize delivered during the last marketing season. These farmers were only holding promissory notes. Government apparently could not do anything to fill-in the gaps left by inept agents, until June 1994, when it promised to pay the farmers money owed to them by these agents.

  8. Promissory Notes were an after-thought, and even these were issued too late to enable farmers to use them to acquire inputs for the next farming season. In some cases they were not even honoured on the day of maturity. Some farmers have not been paid as late as the start of the new crop-marketing season.

  9. The floor prices fixed by Government and adopted by the dealers were too low to cover the production costs and did not reflect the market price for maize. Although there are no figures on spoilage, some of the crop has been spoiled due to lack of adequate storage facilities. And because of unclear policy, only very few commercial farmers have been able to take advantage of the new environment. Even these have been badly hit by lack of protection from apparently subsidized imports of maize, eggs, beef, poultry, wheat, rice, oil, flour, and other processed agricultural products. Some of these imports are in the form of food aid, despite the evident drawbacks in this form of meeting the shortfalls in local food production. The availability of food aid to a Country does more harm than good to the economy of the Country receiving it. It depresses local producer prices, often to the extent that farming becomes unprofitable. Farmers leave the land and move to urban areas, leaving their Country increasingly dependent on handouts of food from the donors - who in many cases are not as charitable as they claim to be. Some have stockpiles of subsidized food produced by their subsidized farmers. Others seek to destabilise African Agriculture in order to destroy potential competition. Some may wish to exert political influence in receiving countries for reasons of their own.
  10. Interest rates have remained stubbornly high. According to the National Farmers’ Union, many large-scale farmers who borrowed from commercial banks have found it impossible to repay the remorselessly compounded increase and are technically bankrupt. Scores of farm workers have had to be laid off.

  11. And because of the above situation further consequences and impacts are to be felt in the agricultural sector. For example, some of the farmers did not plant at all in the 1993 growing season; those who were still able to plant diverted from maize to other crops.

  12. People in the rural areas who are already worse-off than their urban counterparts are now poorer as they could not afford to buy some of their own basic necessities, school requisites for their children, ploughshares and seed. Needless to say that the confidence people had in the pre-election campaigns and the promises of the MMD Manifesto has grossly eroded. This poses a danger of rapid deterioration of food reserves, unless dramatic steps are taken by Government and the Nation as a whole to restore the confidence of the farming community and overcome the cynicism created by the handling of the 1993 marketing arrangements.

    Political Economy Of Government Policy On Maize Marketing

  13. Today Zambia’s economy is being shaped by the neo-liberal economics of the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP). In the political economy of neo-liberalism, involvement of the Government in such activities as maize marketing is not viewed as acceptable. The Government’s only role is seen to be limited to providing an “enabling environment” within which the private sector can be operated according to the laws of the “free market”.

  14. It is the strict following of this model of the economy that led our Government to plan to withdraw completely from the business of maize marketing for the season of 1993. The Government sponsored maize marketing boards were disbanded. Private agents were allowed to assume the responsibility of purchasing, transporting, storing, and reselling the product of the abundant harvest which God had blessed us with following the disastrous drought of the previous season. But the intended operation of the private sector did not, in fact, occur efficiently and equitably, as we have noted above. What lessons can we learn in order to plan for the future?

  15. One does not have to endorse the return to the old discredited system of the previous Government in order to raise a credible voice questioning the wisdom of the rapid and complete withdrawal of the State from maize marketing. As an absolute principle, the neo-liberal position that the Government should never be involved in the economy is simply untenable, as we have emphasized in our 1992 Pastoral Letter, The Future is Ours, “The State has a legitimate positive role in the economy, not simply in human conditions for workers and consumers alike...”

  16. The market may be an effective instrument in regulating the economy, but it is not an absolute, we cannot ignore the very real constraints which private agencies face - capital formation, transport, logistics, etc. Nor can we ignore the responsibilities that the Government has to shoulder to promote the common good and to safeguard the well being of all our citizens.

    Theological Framework for Viewing Agricultural Policy

  17. When we Zambians speak of maize production and marketing, we are not speaking of simply any ordinary marketable item in our economy. We are speaking of the basic commodity, which sustains the life of our people. Food is the most important element in any economy. Consequently the arrangements to make food readily available to all people take on a very highest priority in a well-ordered society. Our political leaders must recognize and respond to this priority, independent of any political or economic ideology.

  18. The scripture is filled with references to the responsibilities, which the human family has, to make sure that all are fed. To begin with, the land, which brings forth food for all, is seen as something sacred, a gift of God. God is the loving provider for all the people. From the Old Testament, we know that land is given as a promise to the Israelites who have been freed from slavery. This “promised land” is to be productive, with fruitful vines, rich olive trees, abundant harvests and fat cattle all being symbols of the happiness that God wants to give to the people.

  19. In the New Testament, Jesus is close to the agricultural scene of his people, as is evident in the teaching of his parables. Many of his images of God’s eternal blessings come in the stories of banquets where people are well fed. And he shows the greatest gift of his love at the Last supper when he gives himself to us as food and drink.

  20. Moreover, food also takes on special significance in the Bible in the instructions about care for the poor and the hungry. To ignore the hungry has always been considered a great offence by those who take seriously the biblical teaching. For instance, Job’s friends suggested that his sufferings were due to his failure in this area; “You must have refused bread to the starving”“ (Job 22:7). The Jews were obliged to leave something in the fields for the fatherless and for the widow” who were hungry (Deuteronomy 24: 15-17).

  21. When we Christians evaluate the agricultural policy, therefore, we do so with a particular concern for the sacredness of the land, the fruitfulness that is a sign of God’s blessings, and the call for justice and special concern for the poor. A policy can be judged as sound and acceptable if it enables farmers to have a just return for their labours and people have assured access to adequate food.

    Policy Recommendations

  22. It is not any agricultural policy that is good for development. It must serve people! We have noted above that the most important element in any economy is food. Indeed all well planned economies give some amount of protection to the farming community to ensure adequate supplies of food at all times. In proposing these policy recommendations, we are calling upon the Government, and indeed the whole Nation to ensure that appropriate policy is instituted and the right of all citizens to feed themselves is defended.

  23. The first responsibility of the Government is to ensure that the Nation can feed itself. The related task is to ensure a healthy level of international inter-dependence. Cheap food imports can destroy local agriculture and create dependence. A Nation that cannot feed itself cannot defend itself.

    1. First the Government should not relinquish its positive role in regulating the economy in order to ensure food security for the Nation, and also justice and equity in the marketing arrangements.
    2. Where as the economic quagmire can justify the need for structural adjustment our Country is going through, this change should be gradual, and we must desist from a blind faith in “market forces”. A well-considered and new agricultural policy should be debated at the grassroots and in the parliament to ensure that the farming community takes part in formulating a more enabling agricultural policy.
    3. Government should protect farmers from unfair competition and ensure just reward for all those who labour to feed the Nation.
    4. Critical inputs, such as fuel and other energy services, agricultural equipment and spares, draft animals, fertilizers and seed should be positively discriminated as investment incentives, to reduce production costs, and achieve lower end-product prices.
    5. Decentralized agro-processing industries, such as hammer mills, together with decentralized energy services such as micro-hydro schemes, solar energy, biogas, etc., should be supported further to allow for multiplier effects and value added in the local regional economies.
    6. We also ask that information regarding markets, technologies and other development data should be readily available in the local languages and distributed through the farmers’ unions and associations, NGOs (including the Churches). In this way, all concerned may take an active part in formulating and implementing agricultural policy.
    7. We reiterate the call of the National Farmers’ Union that no further donations of food should be received in future except in the event of famine, and then only in quantities sufficient to meet actual requirements.
    8. Imports of farm produce, including maize, should be restricted by the imposition of countervailing duties.
    9. The central bank should play a more active role and control the interest rates to make farming affordable.

    Conclusion

  24. The Country will experience a shortfall of about 4.0 million bags of maize in 1994, not so much out of natural causes like the drought, but because of the inadequacies of the agricultural policy and weak institutional capacity. The marketing arrangements for 1994 are not adequate to redress the chaotic situation of 1993.

  25. Whereas the 1993 marketing arrangements have been poorly handled, affirmative action on the part of Government will be necessary to restore the eroded confidence. We urge all citizens to take the responsibility of ensuring that our Country can feed itself, and those labour to feed the Nation are justly rewarded for their efforts.

    Signed:

    Bishop T-G Mpundu
    Chairman - Zambia Episcopal Conference
    10th August 1994