Lloyd Gumbo Mr Speaker, Sir
If there is one thing that we have failed as a country, and without shame for that matter, it is to retain complete ownership of some Government parastatals and enterprises for no apparent reason besides growing the list of such entities.
This is despite the fact that it was so glaring from a long time ago that some of the entities have no justification to remain wholly owned by the State especially when they could do much better as private companies. This is not to say that I am a free market economy advocate. We should, however, not be blinded from seeing reality on the ground.
Mr Speaker Sir, our biggest liability has been some State parastatals and enterprises, which have not done anything to help Treasury raise money for the country’s pressing needs.
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Unfortunately, that has not made us any wiser, as there are some who are still agitating for more State institutions while Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa is completely against any such moves.
He has custody of the country’s purse and as such he is fully aware that adding any other costs will drain the fiscus.
What is unforgivable is the fact that we have retained ownership and control of State institutions that have become a fiscal drain.
Some of these entities are perennially in the intensive care unit yet Government has insisted that they limp along instead of either privatising them or shutting them at all.
Ironically, Government recognised the need to commercialise and privatise some of these institutions a long time ago, yet that has not found expression on the ground.
It, therefore, defies logic why the same Government is now contemplating re-establishing the Cotton Marketing Board at a time it should be shedding its ownership and control in the majority of existing institutions.
We know the argument is that CMB will restore order in the production and marketing of cotton following complaints raised by farmers that they were being underpaid for the crop, populaly known as the “white gold”.
But Mr Speaker Sir, the situation at the Grain Marketing Board is a classic example of how the initiative to re-introduce CMB is at the very least ill-informed.
Farmers who delivered their grain to the GMB will testify to the problems they have faced in getting their money.
This has seriously impacted on their operations as some of the payments have taken years to come through at a time they are supposed to continue production.
A Muzarabani farmer was frank with Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko during his tour of Mashonaland Central recently that there was aversion among cotton farmers on the prospect of the re-establishment of the CMB given the experiences that grain farmers have had with the GMB.
Mr Speaker Sir, if the experiences at GMB are anything to go by, then the CMB will not bring any solution to the problems facing cotton farmers.
If anything, it can actually be worse for the farmers as the CMB will likely fail to pay them on time never mind that the figures are very low.
What we should accept as a country is that we do not live in isolation but in a world where prices of the majority of products are market-driven.
Prices of cotton cannot go up in Zimbabwe while going down at the international market.
So the proposed CMB cannot pay higher than the international market.
This is one of the biggest problems we have had at GMB where they are forced to pay farmers about $400 per tonne of maize compared to our neighbours in Zambia where the same goes for about $200.
Instead of re-establishing the CMB, Government must expend energy and resources in research to improve yields.
One of the biggest challenges to cotton farmers in Zimbabwe is the bollworm.
Farmers have to spray their crop about eight times to fight the bollworm, meaning that they have to buy a lot of insecticides yet our neighbouring countries such as South Africa have adopted BT Cotton which is a genetically modified organism cotton variety that produces an insecticide to bollworm, in the process significantly reducing the cost of cotton production.
Malawi is in its third year trial of BT Cotton while Kenya, Nigeria and other African countries are also on trial runs yet we are not allowing the Cotton Research Institute in Kadoma to also do some trials on BT Cotton which is the most popular cotton in India and China.
Claims by critics that BT Cotton causes skin rash are unfounded because the majority of clothes that we are wearing here are BT Cotton products since they come from Asia and South Africa.
Mr Speaker Sir, Government must allow trials on the BT Cotton to establish if it is compatible with Zimbabwean soil if we are to reduce the cost of production and increase yields.
This is the only way our cotton farmers can get value for their products on the international market.
As long as the issues of cost of production and yield are not addressed, re-establishing CMB in the hope that it will address the challenges in the cotton sector will not solve the problems there.
Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Joseph Made’s anti-GMO obsession must not hold the country to ransom.
This will not do the country any good as long as our competitors on the international market are embracing it since the low cost of production has an influence on pricing.
If Government is against GMO food production, then we should at least give a nod to trial runs on BT Cotton to establish if it will improve production and reduce cost on cotton farmers.
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