The National Association for Small Holder Farmers has said that the failure of the government to follow the agriculture calendar has an adverse impact on the country’s food security.
Association Deputy Executive Director Noel Simukonde observes that most farmers struggle to remain afloat ahead of the 2022/2023 farming season due to delayed payments by the government.
Mr Simukonde said that for Zambia to truly diversify its current dependence on copper to maize as the main contributor to the country’s treasury, there is a need for practical action plans by the government to support the growth of the agriculture sector.
He is of the view that despite its potential to significantly grow the economy and increase the country’s earnings through agro-related value addition, farmers have not yet received the total attention they need from the government.
Mr. Simukonde said that going forward, the distribution of farming inputs such as seeds and fertilizers must be completed within the second quarter of the year to give farmers ample time to prepare for the next season.
Last week, the Zambia National Farmers’ Union (ZNFU) President Jervis Zimba Mr Zimba called on the government said to set up an Inter-Ministerial Committee to handle the issue of the 2022 Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) fertilizer and Seed availability, as this will harness united efforts and coordinate timely delivery of inputs to the farmers.
Mr Zimba noted this after the reported delays in finalizing the procurement processes for the 2022 Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) fertilizers.
Mr Zimba noted that most small-scale farmers depend on FISP for farming inputs hence this development is a blow and could spell doom on a sector that is still grappling with the climate change after effects following the prolonged dry spells experienced last season.
He mentioned that the fact is, rains are just around the corner in some parts of the country and any further delay and lack of clear direction on fertilizer availability will adversely impact on production and productivity for the 2022/2023 farming season.
“This will lead to diminishing income opportunities, food insecurity and stagnation in the poverty trap for most farmers,” Mr Zimba said
Mr Zimba explained that what is even more worrying is that even for locally produced seed, the uncertainty is the same as on Fertilizer which is imported.
Mr Zimba has since appealed to the government to step up and realize that the consequences will be catastrophic for farmers, for it is imperative to ensure that farmers have access to seed and fertilizer timely because what is unfolding will result in these inputs being distributed during the rainy season.
“Of what use will that be?” Mr Zimba questioned
He added that this state-of-affairs could have been avoided if the roadmap agreed in April was adhered to because back then, the recommendation by the private sector was that the processes be concluded by June 2022.
“We cannot understand the on-going inertia and farmers are asking! What is the alternative? We urge the Minister of Agriculture to address the farmers on the Fertilizer Procurement developments,” Mr Zimba said
Mr Zimba stated that what is happening right now is watching a crisis unfolding but behaving as if there is no crisis, this is unfortunate as farmers livelihoods are at stake.
“In our view, the current FISP mess will require the intervention of the Head of State Hakainde Hichilema, to instill hope and certainty in the minds of farmers as the twists and turns playing out in the public domain makes it difficult to discern the facts, we say so because every day that passes is edging us closer to the farming season, and there is no more time to waste,” Mr Zimba mentioned
Last week, the Zambia Public Procurement of Authority (ZPPA) announced the cancellation of the fertilizer supply tender for the 2022/2023 farming season which was recently awarded by the Ministry of Agriculture stating that the process was flawed.
The best evaluated bidders included Samar Agro Investments Limited, Sloutone Investments Limited, Agrtzam Investments Limited, Conchak Investments Limited, Alpha Commodities and Evergreen Fertilizer Limited.
Confirming the cancellation of the tender, ZPPA Director General Idah Chella noted that the action by her Office was in line with regulation 249, following a realization that the procuring entity, the Ministry of Agriculture, decided to include local bidders or suppliers on a bid that was restricted to citizen bidders with seeking a deviation from ZPPA.
“According to regulation 249 under the public procurement regulations, we received two appeals from the public and after we received the appeal, we reviewed the tender and found that there were irregularities in the sense that the tender was under Open National Bidding, and Open National Bidding is restricted to citizens only. So, if under section 39(2), it says participation in Open National Building shall be limited to citizens bidders and in the absence of successive citizen bidder, to local bidders,” Ms Chella explained
“Under 39(3), a local bidder awarded a procurement contract in accordance with subsection (2) shall partner with a citizen supplier that is if there is no citizen bidder. So, in this case, the ministry floated a tender under Open National Bidding and going by our Act under Section 39(1) this was only limited to citizen bidders but in their case, they included local bidders,” Ms Chella added
She said following publication of successful bidders and complaint window, ZPPA reviewed the process.
Ms Chella disclosed that the Institution received two bids, after being reviewed their complaints and concluded it was found that there was an irregularity in the sense that the tender allowed both the citizen bidders and local bidders without seeking a deviation from the ZPPA in accordance with section 79, and that procedure was not done.
She cited that the regulations in procurement requires the procuring entity to seek deviation in a case of alteration in the process, which the ministry failed to comply with.
“It was up to the procuring entity to decide whether to do fresh bidding or not since the fertilizer was still required,” Ms Chella mentioned