via Govt urged to relax grain importation rules – The Zimbabwean 6 May 2015
Government has been urged to relax private grain importation regulations to ensure there are adequate reserves to mitigate the current cereal deficit owing to a bad season.
The latest crop and livestock situation study done by government and international food security agencies indicates that Zimbabwe must import about 700,000 tonnes to offset the deficit that came with poor harvests in the 2014-15 main farming season.
Zimbabwe needs around 1.4 million tonnes of grain annually to sufficiently feed the nation. The country’s maize harvest dropped by 49 percent from last year, according to the crop and livestock assessment report.
The drought negatively affected most of the country, with Mashonaland Central and West being the only provinces that fared relatively well.
John Robertson, an independent economic consultant, urged government to remove all restrictions on private procurers of grain.
“Procurement of grain must not be in the hands of government, but the private sector, which has demonstrated to do it more effectively. Government must limit itself to policy matters and regulatory matters but, even then, it ought to remove all the bureaucratic constraints on import permits,” said Robertson.
He said the permits must be duty free and government must ensure that importers are not delayed at borders so as to cut on operational overheads.
“Experience has shown that the more bureaucratic the process of importation, the higher the costs of doing so. At the end, the consumers will suffer because the importers will pass the costs on to them,” said Robertson.
He urged government to reconsider its ban on genetically modified foods, saying that would improve local food security.
“It doesn’t make sense for government to keep the ban on GMO foods considering that Zimbabweans are eating imported GMO foodstuffs every day,” he said.
Vince Musewe, an economist, said government was too broke to import maize so must allow all willing importers to do so.
He suggested that government must declare the drought a national disaster so as to allow international partners like the World Food Programme (WFP) to intervene.
“Keeping the ban on GMO has negative cost implications. If you want meaningful reserves of GMO-free grain, you must look far. This takes time and the costs are just too high,” said Musewe.
Musewe and Robertson insisted that the country in fact needs to import more than a million tonnes of cereals, instead of the 700,000, arguing that only an estimated 300,000 tonnes had been harvested.