via Silos empty as farmers battle for inputs | The Zimbabwean by Nelson Sibanda & Edgar Gweshe
As the World Food Programme prepares to feed 2 million hungry Zimbabweans this year, it has emerged that most farmers did not sell their crops to the Grain Marketing Board last season because of its failure to pay them in the past.
The GMB Corporate Communications Manager, Muriel Zemura, said only about 20,000 tonnes of maize, from a projected harvest of 1,2 million tons, had been received from farmers since April. Most farmers were reluctant to sell to the board due to a poor history of payments. In addition the producer price set by government was low and many, especially in the south, experienced poor harvests.
The board’s General Manager, Albert Mandizha, revealed recently that at least 10,000 tons of maize had been destroyed due to poor storage facilities at GMB depots countrywide.
Apart from bad weather patterns, Zimbabwe’s 2012-2013 agricultural season was severely affected by a critical shortage of maize seed and fertiliser. Annual grain consumption is 2,2 million tons.
Faced with more than a million ton shortfall, the government imported 150,000 tonnes of maize from Zambia, which it transported to hunger stricken provinces in July.
In 2012, maize output went down by 26 percent to 968,000 tonnes from 1,4 million in 2011. This year, Agriculture Minister Joseph Made said the area planted for major food crops fell to around 1.5 million hectares, from about 1.9 million in 2012 owing to a lack of financial support to farmers.
According to a 2012 Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee report, the worst-affected areas were Masvingo, Matabeleland North and South, and parts of Mashonaland, Midlands and Manicaland provinces.
The food crisis is expected to start biting within the next two months and the next farming season would be worse, as experts say government has no funds to assist farmers with inputs. No clear policies have been put in place for farmers to chart the way forward.
Analysts and farmers’ unions have called on government to speedily formulate investor and farmer friendly policies, to save the country from a further economic catastrophe.
“The way forward is for government to come up with appetising agriculture policies and embrace acceptable banking norms. Zimbabwe should as a matter of urgency adopt new farming technology,” said the president of the Commercial Farmers Union, Charles Taffs. “The tragedy is that Zimbabwe should be a food exporting nation not an importer,” he added.
In the short term, government is expected to source emergency funding for importation of 12 month food supplies.
The president of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union, Wonder Chabikwa, urged government to step up importation of food and speedily come up with farming policies.
“The dilemma is that input suppliers such as Windmill, ZFC, Omnia, Nico Orgo, Nyiombo, Seed CO, Pioneer, Pana, Arda Seeds and Trojan Seeds say they have enough stocks but could not release the inputs without government policies and directives,” he said, adding that government should provide farmers with enough inputs for 1,7 million hectares to ensure sufficient food harvests this season.
Economist John Robertson suggested land be put back on the market. “Farmers should be given security over the farms so that they can borrow from banks,” he said. “Food imports are not the right solution to solve the food crisis.”
Livestock will also be affected by the food shortages by November or December as the national silos are empty.
Zanu (PF) spokesperson Rugare Gumbo, refused to comment on whether the traditional 20,000 ton presidential farming input scheme would bail out farmers this time around, or whether it was a political gimmick to buy votes ahead of elections.
“Contact the Minister for Agriculture who is better placed to comment on the issue,” Gumbo told The Zimbabwean.
Efforts to contact Made were fruitless by the time of going to print.
The World Food Programme says an estimated 2.2 million people – one in four of the rural population – would need help by early next year, the highest number since early 2009 when more than half the population was affected.
“Many districts, particularly in the south, harvested very little and people are already trying to stretch out their dwindling food stocks,” said country director Sory Ouane. “WFP is working closely with the Government and partners to respond to the looming food crisis and will start food and cash distributions to the most vulnerable in October.”