Govt must treat farmers fairly

HARARE - For many years, agriculture has buoyed Zimbabwe’s agro-based economy with crops such as tobacco and cotton ranking among the major foreign currency earners.

While cotton has since fallen down the pecking order, tobacco has remained a top earner of the much-needed foreign currency.

On the other hand Zimbabwean farmers have also been into horticulture, maize production with other small grains contributing a lot to the country’s food security.

The 2016-17 agricultural season — despite the destructive floods in some regions — produced bountiful harvests, especially related to food crops like the staple maize.

However, despite all these positives, the prices paid by the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) for the produce has led to underhand dealings by unscrupulous individuals.

While the State grain concern has been buying maize at $390 a tonne, they were selling the same at $250 — an arrangement that fueled corruption with officials buying from GMB and pushing it back to them.

This is clear corruption that is being allowed to happen under our watch. The same grain is circling GMB depots, being delivered in, taken out and back again, as individuals fleece the bankrupt grain concern all through and obviously distorting statistics associated with maize production in the country.

Government, through the Agriculture ministry, needs to probe this and other malpractices in the strategic sector.

Perhaps at this point, government must look at its operational deficiencies in the past seasons and find ways of correcting the anomalies.

However, this may not be possible because we all know for a fact that the whole system has been corrupted by unbridled avarice that leads individuals in charge of State programmes to loot part of consignments meant for the poor rural; communities.

All along, farmers have complained over the late delivery of inputs like seed and fertilisers which often reach the intended beneficiaries well after December when planting is essentially supposed to have been completed.

Even if we factor in climate change, still farmers require some degree of preparedness in order to be able to perform optimally.

While resettled farmers may be expected to procure their own inputs, there are some, especially rural peasant farmers who have had to endure a series of poor seasons because of late delivery of inputs.

For some who may want to purchase on their own, there are other logistical challenges that range from outright unavailability of the products to cash challenges that end up messing up entire farming seasons.

Tobacco is one area that government should revisit. Modalities that were put in place during the last selling season leave a lot to be desired.

These farmers have financial obligations they need to settle as soon as they leave the auction floors. Expecting them to queue at banks in order to access their money may just not be fair.

Besides, the country earns foreign currency from buyers of the same, meaning the farmers themselves must be given part of their payment — the bigger part to be precise — in US dollars.

This will allow them to not only be able to prepare adequately for the forthcoming season but also settle some of the cash obligations they may have at the farm.

For some, procurement of equipment and spares for farm machinery may require foreign currency, which they sadly have to get from the parallel market.

Ironically, their crop would have been paid for in US dollars but theirs remain bank balances they cannot transact with given the challenges associated with foreign payments. As such, the farmer incurs a loss, which is created for him by the system.

As another farming season approaches, government must seriously do some bit of self-introspection with a view to improving how they conduct their business. Without this, the coming season may not be as rosy as previous ones in terms of yields.

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