FARMERS who misuse inputs accessed under the Specialised Maize Production and Import Substitution Programme (Command Agriculture) face criminal prosecution or loss of property under new regulatory measures introduced to ring-fence against abuse.
Statutory Instrument 79 of 2017, gazetted last Friday, provides for criminalisation of unauthorised purchase, selling or disposal of inputs and crops linked to the programme, with offenders facing three months imprisonment.
Under the regulations, Government has invoked a statutory hypothec in its favour — which is a legal principle enabling it to attach property in the event of a breach of contract. Inspectors will be deployed to determine if farmers are using inputs in terms of the contract.
Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Dr Joseph Made gazetted the SI, known as the Agriculture Marketing Authority (Command Agriculture Scheme for Domestic Crop, Livestock and Fisheries Production) Regulations, in fulfilment of an announcement to that effect by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa during last year’s Zanu-PF Annual National People’s Conference.
Through Command Agriculture, Government has assisted thousands of farmers with agriculture inputs and fuel to grow maize on a cost-recovery basis.
The new regulations represent Government’s commitment to expand the programme, which was initially slated to run for three years focusing primarily on food crop production.
The intervention puts to shame programme detractors, including Higher and Tertiary Education Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo, who are claiming the programme is being abused. Already, the Auditor-General has been engaged to audit Command Agriculture.
Reads the SI in part: “In order to secure the contracted obligations to use agricultural inputs or deliver contract produce in accordance with a scheme contract, or to secure the monetary value of inputs supplied, but not consumed in accordance with a scheme contract, the Government by these regulations hereby creates a hypothec (herein called a ‘statutory hypothec’) in its favour —
“(a) over all agriculture inputs supplied to contract farmers; and (b) over all contract produce produced by contract farmers; and (c) over all identifiable proceeds from the sale or misappropriation of agricultural inputs, including cash; and
“(d) any movable chattel on the land or premises of the contract farmer in the absence of the inputs, produce or proceeds specified in paragraph (a), (b) or (c) to the monetary value of inputs supplied but not consumed in accordance with a scheme contract.
“The Government or an authorised agency on behalf of Government may assert the statutory hypothec against any contract farmer of other person in possession of agriculture inputs, the proceeds of such inputs or contract produce.”
The regulation imposes strict controls on how much inputs an individual can apply for.
“. . . (any) contract farmer who misappropriates any agricultural inputs; or being in possession of any agricultural input in excess of what he or she needs to produce the contracted produce, fails to return the same to the authorised agency no later than seven days from the date of delivery of the contract produce or if no such date is stated, no later than thirty days after the end of the agricultural season applicable to the contract produce, shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level four or imprisonment not exceeding three months or both such fine and imprisonment.”
Farmers can request an extension of timelines for delivery of produce.
“Any person, whether or not a party to a scheme contract who deals in or possess agriculture inputs or contract produce in contravention of a scheme contract, that is to say purchases, receives, stores, sells, obtains, possesses or otherwise disposes of such agricultural inputs; or purchases, receives, stores, sells, obtains, possesses or otherwise disposes such agricultural produce; shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level four or imprisonment not exceeding three months or both such fine and imprisonment.”
The regulations say farmers who use inputs for any purpose other than contractually agreed will also face jail time. Hoarding and failure to deliver produce in breach of contract provisions is an offense. Zimbabwe expects a harvest of over four million tonnes of food crops this year largely as a result of the success of Government programmes like Command Agriculture and the Presidential Inputs Support Scheme.
Farmers have begun deliveries to the Grain Marketing Board with over 500 000 tonnes expected by the end of July. The GMB is paying on delivery after Government and its partners set aside US$450 million for grain purchases. This season’s harvest is envisaged to reduce Zimbabwe grain import bill by US$200 million.