BY GARIKAI MAFIRAKUREVA
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa last Sunday met sugarcane farmers from Chiredzi at his Precabe Farm in Kwekwe to discuss challenges faced by the over 1 200 sugar growers who benefited from the land reform programme.
The meeting also looked at the unconducive environment in the sugar industry.
The farmers were led by former Chiredzi West MP Darlington Chiwa (Zanu PF) and the Zimbabwe Development Sugarcane Association (ZDSA) secretary-general Bernadette Chipembere. Chiwa confirmed that the farmers met the Mnangagwa, but could not be drawn into giving details.
But sources close to the matter told NewsDay that chief among their grievances was the need to amend the Sugar Control Production Act of 1964, which many farmers believe gives too much power to sugar processors and millers.
The Sugar Control Production Act also determines how farmers are paid by millers in the form of division of proceeds.
The Act is also said to be benefiting a few companies such as the Zimbabwe Sugar Refinery Corporation Ltd, Hippo Valley Estates Ltd, Zimbabwe Sugar Sales (Pvt) Ltd and Triangle Ltd.
The companies are allegedly benefiting directly or indirectly at all levels of production, from cane growing and milling, to sugar refinement and distribution.
In 2005, the Competition and Tariff Commission submitted a report to the late former President Robert Mugabe, saying the playing field in the sugar industry was uneven.
On October 22, 2020, Mnangagwa announced that one of the Bills that would be amended would be the 1964 Sugar Production Control Act. He said it would be completed by December 2021 to ensure that farmers operate viably.
In April 2021, sugarcane was declared a strategic crop, joining others like maize, wheat, cotton, tobacco and soyabeans.
The sources also revealed that Mnangagwa admitted that the sugar industry was an economic hub for Masvingo province and promised to look into the farmers’ grievances.
The farmers are said to have donated 30 tonnes of sugar to Mnangagwa.
It is also alleged that Mnangagwa refused to entertain businesspeople and transporters who accused Tongaat Hullet of not awarding tenders to local players, saying the accusations were one-sided.
“He ordered them to arrange another meeting where they will meet in the presence of Tongaat Hullet officials,” the source said.
Most Chiredzi businesspeople, politicians and bankers were blacklisted by Tongaat Hullet for various offences ranging from conniving with employees to inflate prices to undocumented contracts, prejudicing the company of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Ezra Chadzamira, the Zanu PF Chiredzi district leadership and Chiredzi West MP Farai Musikavanhu (Zanu PF) also attended the meeting.