Stop rot at Grain Marketing Board

Local and international analysts and institutions have released positive expectations about economic growth, premised on the success of Command Agriculture

Local and international analysts and institutions have released positive expectations about economic growth, premised on the success of Command Agriculture

Victoria Ruzvidzo In Focus
Zimbabweans have a penchant for shooting themselves in the foot with such precision it is amazing. Quite a number of noble programmes and projects have failed to yield much due to selfishness and greed, putting paid to initiatives designed to transform the economy.

Reports in this newspaper on Wednesday of a scam involving Grain Marketing Board officials, where farmers are being forced to sell their grain on the black market after it has been rejected by the grain buyer because of a high moisture content, make sad reading. The officials then connive with the black market dealers to sell the same maize to the GMB at a profit.

While it would appear logical for the GMB to reject maize with a high moisture content, it turns out the issue is more about who brings the maize and not so much about the moisture content because the same maize is brought back via the black market and is immediately accepted at the depots as investigations have shown.

This behaviour sabotages the farmer, who is forced to settle for a lower price because it becomes uneconomic for him to take the grain back to the farm for further drying due to high transport costs and storage challenges. The Government is also left stranded as it fails to get a portion of the proceeds as payment for inputs that the farmer got under the State. The stop order facility is linked to GMB.

The global picture indicates that such malpractices could severely undermine the success of Command Agriculture if the scam is not abated. It will be a sad day for our country were this to put noble agriculture initiatives off rail. Government facilitated the production of at least three million tonnes of maize as the first year of Command Agriculture registered immense success.

Such a achievement cannot just be blown away by some greedy elements. The nation consumes about 1,2 million tonnes annually which means that the balance could be exported and earn the country the much needed foreign currency, among a number of benefits that will accrue.

Not only is Command Agriculture expected to transform the agriculture sector, but the economy as a whole, with predictions of positive real growth flying around already. However, results could be compromised by unscrupulous and myopic GMB officials.

Black market traders, who are always lurking as spoil sports, buy the maize at $150 per tonne and sell it for between $250 and $320. Government’s official buying price is $390.

If the Government fails to recover some input costs from farmers it will be left with very little to finance the programme. Immense Command Agriculture success has been registered in most provinces and the programme is currently being replicated in livestock, wheat, fisheries and other agriculture sub-sectors.

Local and international analysts and institutions have released positive expectations about economic growth, premised on the successful agricultural initiative. Hence the economy can ill-afford any attempts to derail this programme.

This week the World Bank forecast that the economy will this year grow by 2,8 percent based on the recovery of the agriculture sector, the economy’s backbone.

Simple reasoning would tell us that such projects as Command Agriculture and the Presidential Inputs Scheme need to be safeguarded and watched as any tampering with them will have adverse effects on the economy.

It is quite sad, if not outright embarrassing, that most well-intentioned programmes in this country begin as beautiful stories but fizzle out because a few individuals see them as opportunities to make money at the expense of the entire nation.

Selfishness and greed have a tendency to gravitate towards self-defeatist practices; the country is replete with examples. There is a Shona saying that goes “ukaita zvakanaka wazviitira, ukaita zvakaipa wazviitira”, loosely translated to mean that if you do good, you will benefit from it and if you do bad it will haunt you. It usually does not appear to be so in the beginning but if we compromise efforts to restore the economy, tomorrow we will be the ones affected by poor liquidity, high prices, scarce commodities, poor service delivery and other debilitating effects of an underperforming economy.

But can the country watch while a few individuals destroy noble programmes? The answer is an obvious no! We expect Government to immediately launch investigations into the allegations and put the culprits where they belong – far from the silos. Systems and mechanisms should be put in place to ensure the process of buying maize by the GMB is foolproof.

The grain buyer should also not remain passive but should instead go all out to elbow out the black market buyers. Of course, the proactive stance can only be undertaken once the bad apples within the system have been flushed out.

GMB needs to be capacitated so that it can effectively buy and store grain on behalf of the country. A chain is as strong as its weakest link, so it would be unfortunate were the state of the parastatal to compromise Command Agriculture. Government should not be found wanting. Over the next few days we expect policy pronouncements that will allow GMB to take full charge in the procurement process while farmers are discouraged from selling on the black market.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe should also investigate how black market buyers are accessing thousands if not millions of dollars to purchase the grain. No stone should be left unturned to ensure the benefits of Command Agriculture projects are not compromised. For the first time in a long time, the agriculture sector is looking up and farmers are smiling because they have registered high output levels under Command Agriculture.

The launch of similar programmes in other sub-sectors is expected to sustain full recovery of a sector that has suffered from harsh weather conditions and scanty funding.

Efforts by the financial sector to launch such facilities as the horticulture scheme by Agribank will augment Command Agriculture and ensure the sector plays its pivotal role in the economy.

It is no longer a pipe dream that this country will regain its breadbasket status. Sooner rather than later this will become a reality. Therefore, we should not tolerate errant behaviour by GMB officials or other players along the chain. We are all too aware that paying mere lip service will not help but that decisive action must be taken to guard the positive outcomes from Command Agriculture and other initiatives to propel the economy forward.

The shortage of foreign currency is a challenge that can be overcome through increased production as has happened in agriculture. On the other hand, the manufacturing sector continues to report improved performance with capacity utilisation rising to more than 50 percent in cases where firms almost closed shop.

This scenario should energise the nation to work together towards a better economy while there should be unity is fighting corruption at GMB or wherever else the vice manifests.

In God I Trust!

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