Walter Nyamukondiwa Chinhoyi Bureau
Cash-rich middlemen are ripping off desperate farmers by buying maize for as little as $140 per tonne, which they in some instances resell to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) for over 100 percent profit at the Government-recommended price of $390 per tonne.
Fears abound that some farmers, especially those who benefited from Government-sponsored programmes like Command Agriculture, will be unable to repay for inputs after selling their grain for a song.
Teams of buyers are reportedly moving around farming and rural communities offering on-spot cash for grain. Some of the buyers are believed to be acting on behalf of big firms, some of which do not support farmers during production.
This raises fears that the companies are riding on the success of Government’s Command Agriculture Programme to maximise profits. The middlemen used to buy grain at around $300 per tonne, but because of the increase in grain stocks this season, they have reduced the price to between $140 and $250 per tonne.
However, the price of grain products like maize-meal has largely remained static. Government has implored farmers to deliver their grain to GMB where the parastatal is paying $390 through the banking system. This comes at a time when some communities are also selling grain distributed under Government’s food relief programme.
A bucket of maize is being sold for around $2,50 in areas such as Kirikiti and Patchway in Sanyati, Doma, Mhangura and Lions Den in Makonde.
The same quantity is selling for $5 in urban centres like Chinhoyi. In the most desperate situations, a five litre container of maize is being bartered for a bar of soap, which is retailing for about $1.
In Makonde, a packet of sugar is enough to buy one bucket of maize, while a cup of maize can buy a packet of 50 grams snacks, commonly known as Jiggies after a popular brand.
Hurungwe farmer Mr James Tenhure said stringent quality requirements by GMB and desperation for cash by farmers were turning people to middlemen.
“The cash shortage has left farmers at the mercy of people who have access to large sums of money where they are selling their maize for anything between $140 and $250 per tonne,” he said.
Other farmers said unavailablity of cash and lack of access to banking facilities and services were driving people to sell to anyone who had money. The public cannot withdraw more than $300 from banks within a week, but of late people have been going home with as little as $20 after long hours of queuing.
Federation of Young Farmers Club of Zimbabwe board member and Doma farmer Mr Tapiwanashe Chikondowa called on farmers to diversify.
“We would like to urge farmers to ensure they come up with projects that sustain them during the course of the year while they wait for their major crop,” he said.
“People sell their grain for next to nothing because they have school fees to pay and want to feed their families.”
Mr Chikondowa urged the Ministry of Small to Medium Enterprises and Cooperative Development to help empower farmers through value addition of their produce.
“Middlemen are buying grain without stringent requirements like moisture content which makes it easier for farmers to just sell the grain for convenience, otherwise they are being ripped off,” said a Mhangura farmer.
At GMB Lions Den for instance, middlemen are buying grain outside the depot from people whose grain would have been declined for moisture content above 12,5 percent and other reasons.
The situation is the same at Banket, Mhangura and Chegutu depots. Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) president Retired Major Abdul Nyathi said cash shortages could be contributing to the situation.
“It is something that had not been brought to our attention, but we would like to urge farmers to deliver grain to GMB because it is paying their effort’s worth,” he said. “We want our farmers protected from these unscrupulous buyers.”
Some desperate farmers are taking their grain to hammer millers in urban areas for instant cash. Sources at GMB said farmers were being paid for grain delivered through head office accounts section who credit their bank accounts.
There are questions over where the middlemen get cash.
“These are people who have new notes that allow them to buy large quantities of grain from farmers when everyone else is struggling to get money from the banks,” said a farmer who had just sold a tonne of maize for $250 in Mhangura.
“We now have cash barons who are preying on helpless people in rural and farming areas.”
No comment could be obtained from GMB, while Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Dr Joseph Made’s mobile phone went unanswered.
Sanyati district administrator Mr Amigo Mhlanga said farmers should be patient and deliver their grain to GMB.
“GMB should ensure that buying points are opened and closer to the people because currently the buying points have not been opened, so people sell to the nearest available buyer,” he said.
“This has resulted in farmers not realising anything at the end of the day.”