Zambia maize deal: A good move that is less futuristic

TANZANIA: SO, it was reported last week that Tanzania and Zambia have inked an agreement to trade maize.

In this case, Tanzania will supply the Southern African nation 650,000 tons of maize to help its seven million people who are now facing grain shortage thanks to adverse effects if El Nino that hits several countries in the Southern Africa including South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique and Botswana.

In March 2024, I wrote on this platform that “The government of Zambia has reported that drought has destroyed nearly 1.0 million hectares, which may mean that half of the production has been destroyed.

The President of Zambia Hakainde Hichilema, while on television, has declared Zambia’s drought a national disaster and emergency, a problem that will affect more than one million families, according to the Aljazeera.

“The southern African country has gone without rain for five weeks at a time when farmers need it the most,” Hichilema said in a televised national address from the capital, Lusaka, last Thursday.

“This compounded the effects of another dry spell and flooding that hit the nation last year” Aljazeera reported on the President remarks.

The current situation has drastically changed Zambia’s and Zimbabwe’s status from the leading producers of maize to net importers. It is a setting that few could see it coming in just few years ago”.

I ended my op-ed with these remarks “Those who have an access to Tanzanian maize can bank on the current harvesting spree and store for a near future export to these droughts stricken African countries.

The government of Tanzania can seize this opportunity by entering agreements with food reserve agency of Zambia and other importers on how grain flow will be actualised.

This should be done in collaboration with private sector. More or less similar measures can be taken on other countries in the south”. Well, it has come to pass.

According to statement by the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Hussein Bashe, on X platform (formerly Twitter), an agreement will be implemented in eight months and will bring to Tanzania a sum total of 650bn/-.

Maize that will be exported to Zambia will come from National Food Reserve Agency’s (NFRA) grain stores of which 55,000 tonnes will come from Songwe centre, 75,000 tonness from Makambako, 250,000 tonnes from Sumbawanga, and 270,000 tonnes from Songea.

Additionally, the statement went on to elaborate that; parallel to Tanzania’s export of 650,000 tonnes of maize to Zambia; we have entered a contract to export 500,000 tonnes of maize to DR-Congo and 100,000 tonnes of maize flour to WFP (World Food Programme).

Tanzania continues to implement its WFP contract that sells maize flour to Malawi. NFRA price will be announced and will be transparent. NFRA will buy maize by more than 500/- a kilo.

End of quote. With all the beautiful stories around this deal, there pops in many questions on Tanzania’s commitment to promote its private sector that is currently in a fledgling stage now that NFRA – a government agency – is the main actor in this deal.

Although the Minister, as a rejoinder, said that private players are allowed to trade with Zambia and other countries in question as long as they get export permit from the government agency, one can rightfully doubt the practicality of this good response.

This reminds me of a conversation that I had with a certain grain trader two months ago in Iringa. He told me that the government is implementing an export ban.

Out of extreme surprise I responded with a big No while explaining to him that as long as you get an export permit you are able to do international trade.

He killed me with rather an intelligent answer that, as long as he is required to ask for a permit—which can be denied by the authorised issuer without giving any reason—it means export ban still exists.

I was completely floored. Tanzanian private sector, must be left to do the business freely. In fact, should be given the first priority.

The government of Tanzania needs to know that powerful companies on earth are (or were) nurtured by way of capital support and express freedom to grab existing opportunities.

Also read: CRDB donates seven tonnes of maize seeds to Rufiji

The history of Britain owned East India Company should be a good example. As per its website, NFRA mission is “To ensure availability of strategic food stock in times of shortage by procuring, reserving, recycling and marketing food stock in an efficient manner for community wellbeing”.

In a self-description mode, the website gives the agency’s background “The origin of the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) goes back to the drought of 1973 – 1975 when Tanzania was hit by an acute food shortage as it was unable to meet its food requirement and had to depend on imports and food aid.

As a result of that disaster the government decided to establish Food Reserve Organ (Strategic Grain Reserve – SGR) in 1976 as a strategy for overcoming food shortages in the country”.

Unless Tanzania intends to donate those tonnages to her good neighbours the fact that a noncommercial entity is engaging in business should be mind-boggling to everyone.

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