GOVERNMENT’S recent decision to use soldiers and police to seize grain from farmers has triggered ructions in the farming community.
In a memo last week Lands and Agriculture ministry secretary John Bhasera instructed Grain Marketing Board (GMB) chief executive Rockie Mutenha to operationalise provisions of Statutory Instrument (SI) 145/19 to avert side marketing of grain.
Reacting to the memo, Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president Shadreck Makombe said: “There is nothing like side marketing for those who independently grew their grain because they would have financed their farming activities. These farmers must make independent choices on where to sell their grain to as government’s decision is curtailing their freedom to make independent choices.”
Makombe said SI 145/19 which bars movement of grain would make it difficult for people to assist their relatives who need grain in different parts of the country as this would be viewed as committing a crime.
“This policy should have been implemented on those who produced their grain through contract farming. Of course those doing side marketing should be disciplined, but what about independent farmers,” he added.
Zimbabwe Farmers Union president Paul Zakariya, however, said for those who were contracted by GMB there was no deprivation of freedom because they were contracted.
“You surrendered your freedom when you signed the contract and collected the inputs promising to deliver grain at the end. This is a contract hence there is no need for the army and police to intervene in order to deal with deviant farmers,” he said.
Over the years, some farmers have been reluctant to sell their grain to GMB due to low prices, preferring to sell on the black market where foreign currency is offered.
Agricultural economist Rukani Mandivamba said government should negotiate with farmers on a 50% part payment for grain in US dollars.
“I think the issue has been about pricing. I hope government will review the prices to 50% payment in forex because it would cost the country US dollars anyway to import grain. It’s a win-win situation for both and government and farmers,” Mandivamba said.
Economist Victor Bhoroma said GMB’s monopoly on maize sales was killing the market, especially small-holder farmers, leading to rent-seeking behaviour.
“Well, the challenge we have with the GMB monopoly on maize is that it kills market access for small-holder farmers, dents viability, creates inefficiencies in the economy and leads to rent-seeking behaviour by those with access to GMB or authorities,” Bhoroma said.
“Pricing for any agriculture commodity needs to be set by growers or be determined in an open market such as the commodity exchange. Anything else will lead to decline in production and food insecurity. GMB cannot set a competitive price, pay for the grain on time and efficiently. History will tell you. Millers cannot operate through buying from GMB as long as the price is above market price,” he added.