The Sunday News
Economic Focus Gabriel Masvora
THE farming season is now drifting into the most interesting period, where farmers reap the rewards of all those months of hard labour and the money they pumped into their ventures from the time when some fields were just bare land. The signs are all clear across the country that farmers tried their best under the existing conditions to ensure that their fields produced yields that have put smiles back on many people’s faces.
It is almost certain that the country will record a bumper harvest, enough to feed the whole nation until the next harvest.
Government estimates that around 1,8 million tonnes of maize will be recorded this season while farmers say the figure might be around 1,2 million tonnes.
The country needs 1.2 million tonnes per year of maize to meet its food requirements and no matter which side you look from, it all points to a situation where output will be enough to feed the nation, something last recorded many years ago.
It was worrying that the country was relying on imports when it has the potential to produce enough to feed its people and even export.
Apart from maize, there are millions of tonnes of other crops, some exclusively cash crops that will help put our agriculture back on track.
However, figures alone might not mean anything if there are no clear measures to harness and manage the crops that the farmers have produced.
Not everyone is a farmer and not all farmers are producing food crops and it will take a proper set-up to ensure that the food is distributed and made available to everyone.
Those people who are not farmers are harnessing resources somewhere and will use the money from their ventures to buy food. They can only buy the food if the farmers sell the surplus.
That is why the Grain Marketing Board is going to play an important role this year to ensure that the food is fairly distributed while rewarding the farmer to ensure he can produce more next time.
GMB is the parastatal that is mandated to ensure strategic reserves are maintained to meet food requirements for the nation anytime.
But events of yesteryear have shown that the company has veered off its mandate resulting in farmers mistrusting the GMB.
In the past seasons the two important stakeholders have been at each other’s throat with accusations of one party failing to meet its end of the bargain.
The biggest problem has been the non-payment for grain delivered by farmers to the GMB. This is a major problem. No one can stomach that.
After toiling for many months in the fields and spending money to buy inputs and financing other operations in the field, farmers, like anyone else expect to get rewards from their business. Farming is a business too and farmers must be treated like serious business people.
No one will sell to buyers or any institution that reneges on its promise to pay. You can dupe farmers once but you cannot do that twice.
Last year, according to farmers, GMB duped farmers with lucrative offers for maize but later failed to pay most of the farmers on time.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president Mr Wonder Chabikwa said GMB announced that it would buy maize at $378 per tonne and private buyers were buying at around $350.
Naturally farmers flocked to GMB which was offering higher prices.
However, GMB failed to pay the farmers on time giving the ammunition to private buyers to slash their prices.
The private buyers who were offering cash on delivery took advantage of this and reduced their buying prices.
At the end farmers were faced with a situation of either selling to GMB at the cosmetic price of $378 or face the private buyers who were now buying at around $300 per tonne.
Farmers were the biggest losers, thanks to GMB. This was not the first time. Another season, farmers were told that they will only receive payment in the form of inputs. It was more like a barter deal but the problem was that it was a forced deal.
Farmers argued that they didn’t spend all their energy in the fields only to be rewarded with inputs. They have other obligations such as school fees and groceries and you cannot wake up to tell them that they will be paid using inputs.
After all when they are paid in cash they can still buy inputs as and when they want them.
That is why Mr Chabikwa clearly said farmers were skeptical of selling their maize to the parastatal again. Obviously farmers are justified if they stop selling to GMB considering such a bad history.
This year GMB should ensure they re-build their image by doing the right thing and reclaim the lost trust from farmers.
Not only should they push Government to announce the maize producer price early but they must guarantee farmers that they will be paid for maize delivered on time.
There is this tendency by parastatals to shift the blame to Government. These companies might be Government entities but their mandate is not to siphon money from Treasury but to run profitably on behalf of the Government.
The ideal situation would be for these companies to make money and help the Government and not the other way round.
It is high time some of these parastatals, GMB included, account for what they were formed to do.
When GMB buy maize they resell it to millers and other stakeholders and the money they get must be used to ensure the business breaks even.
This tendency of running to Treasury every year as if the company is not in business must end. If such companies cannot run on their own and cannot declare a dividend to Government then why do they exist and why are those people running them continuing as if nothing wrong is happening?
Most parastatal heads, apart from paying themselves huge salaries, have clearly shown that they are incompetent and have for many years failed to turn around these important institutions.
And GMB must ensure that unlike in the past they are not caught snoring again.