Cash-rich middlemen rip off farmers

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.”

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  • Hmm

    Bumper harvest = lower price. This is a fundamental law of markets everywhere . If govt is to support farmers it must be to increase their yields such that they are viable even when prices fall. What happens when we need to export maize can you force the world to pay 390? Long term viability in maize farming should be related to actual market prices therefore if you cannot achieve 6 tons per hectare you should be doing something else.

  • Mopao General Mbezo

    Where are these middlemen getting the cash from ? So a whole government has failed to get ready cash when we have individuals roaming the breath of the whole country with hoards of the scarce USD..? You do the math….!!

  • Freddy Mabwe

    A clever ploy to set us off the scent by preparing for imminent failure of a bumper harvest! At the end we will be told: ‘the middlemen reduced the expected bumper harvest by their ill-dealing. That together with the cash shortage caused by the illegal sanctions blah blah blah/%#[email protected](__+!

  • CHAOMA

    At least the farmers will now know who is the real Zanu pf, the animal inovabvambura ndokuita kwayo

  • Garba Lawal

    2008 now back to haunt us,remember when people started to swindle rural fol of their goats that was the boiling point znd Zim was gone, now it is maize….brace yourselves up for tougher times ahead

    • nelson moyo

      Goats are now legal tender Garba – get with it man !

  • Dennis mudzingwa

    Early last year we were importing maize from Zambia @ 240/ tonne. With a bumper harvest expected throughout Southern Africa, how does a ### government peg its price @ 390/ tonne.
    If its too good to be true, then it most probably isn’t.
    Its the government who want to rip off the farmers by forcing them to sell at GMB where they will struggle to get paid, let alone struggle even more to retrieve their hard-earned money from the banks.

  • nelson moyo

    A man once told me that to be successful in business you had to buy low and to sell high or higher.
    This is whats happening here. With upwards of 90% of Zimbabweans educated to university level only fools would sell at a silly price of 140 ( US$ not mabond notes).
    The old Latin saying ‘Caveat emptor’ is advice to our clever farmers – they must wake up as it would appear that the maize dealers are shafting them from all sides

  • nelson moyo

    Government hapana mari

  • nelson moyo

    The middlemen have relatives deep inside the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe – like Comrade Doctor (UZ) Gideon Gono used to operate up until 2008

  • nelson moyo

    No fuel in Chegutu I am reliably told