Zimbabwe in mystery grain imports

Source: Zimbabwe in mystery grain imports | The Financial Gazette July 20, 2017

GRAIN imports into Zimbabwe have continued despite a government ban imposed five months ago and official projections of surplus production from the current season.

Deputy Minister of Agriculture Davison Marapira dismissed suggestions that the imports could be meant to cover up for a local production shortfall, but industry experts have raised fears that Zimbabwe could have overstated its output. Experts have also warned that the government’s fixed maize purchase price creates arbitrage opportunities.

“Government imported a lot of grain last year, some of which had not been delivered when the ban was introduced in February,” Marapira said.

“Whoever told you that it was meant to cover up for production shortfall does not understand how government operates because we have not yet finished harvesting and a lot of grain is still to be delivered. How then can we cover up for a shortfall which we don’t know of as yet. We are not filling any gap, get it from me.”

Milling industry sources, however, indicate that it takes an average two months for grain imports from South America to land in Zimbabwe. The imports were coming from Mexico.

Zimbabwe, which has struggled with food deficits since 2000 when President Robert Mugabe’s government seized white-owned farms to resettle blacks, has forecast production of the staple maize to reach 2,1 million tonnes this year. The country consumes 1,8 million tonnes of the grain, annually.
Government spent close to $200 million last year on maize import substitution programmes and is purchasing locally produced grain, through the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), at $390 per tonne, more than double the price in regional markets.

Analysts have said the GMB price creates arbitrage opportunities, with some merchants possibly sourcing the grain abroad for sale in Zimbabwe.

Investigations by The Financial Gazette have established that a cargo ship docked at Mozambique’s Beira port last week to deliver a consignment of maize, which was then transported into Zimbabwe by a long convoy of trucks that entered Zimbabwe through Forbes border post near Mutare on Sunday night.

The maize was transported by dozens of 30-tonne trucks with Mozambican registration number plates to the GMB’s Murewa depot, 80 kilometres east of Harare.

Some of the trucks were still offloading the grain when The Financial Gazette arrived at the GMB depot in Murewa on Monday afternoon.

A total of 22 trucks, all from Mozambique, were still at the depot while witnesses said more had driven off after offloading their cargo.

GMB officials refused to talk to The Financial Gazette, but were reported to be prioritising the trucks ahead of local farmers who could be seen unhappily milling around the depot as they awaited their turn.

Some farmers said they were told that two of the three weigh bridges at the depot had broken down and the only one available had been reserved for the foreign trucks.
A Mozambican truck driver on his way out of the depot confirmed that he had delivered maize “owned by the Government of Zimbabwe” all the way from the Port of Beira.

“We got the consignment from the Port of Beira on Saturday and came in through the Forbes Border Post before finding our way here. We were told that the maize belonged to the Government of Zimbabwe. The documents also show that it is owned by the government,” said the trucker, who, however, declined to show us the documents saying he was not permitted to do so.

Another Mozambican truck driver said: “We understand that the maize is coming from Mexico. We are under instruction to deliver it here. I think I saw about 60 trucks here.”
His counterpart, however, put the number of trucks at 70.

Last week in the Senate, Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Joseph Made announced that grain deliveries to the GMB had reached 230 000 tonnes. This week, the minister again said the grain deliveries had intensified.

While government has played up prospects of a significant maize surplus, independent assessments suggest output could be lower than official projections of 2,1 million tonnes of maize.
Government has adjusted its forecast from earlier euphoric pronouncements of as much as three million tonnes this harvesting season.

Zimbabwe’s total planted area in the 2016/17 season fell just short of 1,8 million hectares and the country’s average yield was 0,8 tonnes per hectare during the previous year. The forecast maize production suggests an improved yield of about 1,2 tonnes per hectare.

The special maize import substitution programme, dubbed “Command Agriculture”, initially set out to put 400 000 hectares under the crop, targeting a minimum 2 million tonnes in production, but only managed 153 000 hectares, according to official statistics.