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Politics | Agriculture - Nutrition

"Lies will not avert Zimbabwe food crisis"

Misanet / The Standard, 16 August - The Zimbabwean government is coming face to face with the reality of looming food shortages. A fortnight ago, the Harare government as much as acknowledged there will be inadequate grain to meet domestic consumption. The Ministry's production forecast is half of the official figures of the expected harvest.

The acknowledgement came in the guise of a price incentive for farmers after maize delivered to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) was assigned AB grade in a bid to encourage farmers to increase deliveries of the grain.

In addition, the government has been assuring farmers that they will be paid in cash for grain deliveries of between three and five tonnes. It appears there have been few takers. But delivering smaller quantities of grain to the GMB in order to be paid ready cash only increases the cost of the deliveries. The income realized from the sale of these small quantities of grain may not necessarily cover the cost of ever-rising inputs, as well as the immediate requirements of the farmer and his family.

For a farmer waiting to buy agricultural inputs for the next farming season, there is little point in delivering several tonnes of grain to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) in order to get ready cash when he has produced more. The farmers want prompt payment so they can undertake their planning and budgeting knowing exactly what amounts they are dealing with.

On the other hand, there is not much point in holding onto grain surplus to domestic requirements, because that is money tied up when it could be used to meet other immediate needs.

The truth, however, is that Zimbabwe has not produced adequate grain for its requirements this year, however the government may try to deny it. Minister Nicholas Goche, who heads one of the government taskforces, last week said estimated total production of grain would be 600,000 - 700,000 tonnes.

The government's own figures say the expected harvest will be about 1.2 million tonnes. That leaves a shortfall of about 500 000 - 600 000 tonnes.

While the decision to pay farmers more for AB Grade is designed to encourage more deliveries of grain, mention of quantities of three - five tonnes would suggest that even the government is aware that no greater quantities were produced this year.

This period of the year normally sees considerable activity as farmers deliver their grain to the market. The reason for the rush to deliver is, in part, to get paid so that in turn the farmers are able to settle school fees for their children. It is also partly to enable them to buy inputs before demand peaks and inputs become difficult to secure.

The Grain Marketing Board says at least 119,000 tonnes of maize out of an expected 1.2 million tonnes have been delivered to its depots throughout the country since the beginning of the marketing season in April.

If it takes four months for the farmers to deliver nearly 120,000 tonnes of maize - that is a tenth of what the government says was produced this year- it is anybody's guess how much grain will be delivered in the remaining two months before the onset of the rainy season.

The reason why there is no rush this year is because there simply is no surplus grain from the just ended agricultural season. During this time of the year, grain depots would be a hive of activity.

No such luck this year. An inspection of some of the rural areas shows that whereas GMB depots would normally be more than 50 percent full, lesser quantities have so far been delivered.

The government has reminded the international donor community that it no longer requires their assistance and that they should therefore cease their operations. But elsewhere in this paper we report that Zimbabwe has imported 40,000 tonnes of maize through South Africa.

However, the truth is that there are more people in need of food aid. By underplaying the figure, the government may have just planted the seeds of an internal humanitarian crisis.

About 4 million Zimbabweans were benefiting from the international donor assistance. Therefore, to move from that position to zero assistance when conditions clearly indicate that the internal situation has not changed significantly is to court disaster.

On another level, there is also a self-serving interest to the so-called incentive for maize producers. Government ministers, civil servants and ruling party officials are themselves farmers. So those in power are, in fact, the major beneficiaries.

In the past the government has shown reluctance in approving producer price increases because of the effect on the price consumers will pay for basic foodstuff. A further argument that could have driven the government to offer grain producers the so-called "incentive" results from fear of the flight of farmers from maize production to other crops.

The fourth reason is that despite its bravado, the government does not have the foreign currency to buy grain on the world market.

A 'The Standard' Comment

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