We are still getting reports that farmers contracted under Command Agriculture and wish to deliver their maize to GMB depots are being turned away over high moisture content.
This, if true, is outrageous and goes against the noble objectives of this Government initiative. GMB should spare a thought for the farmers given the challenges they have had to overcome to ensure they produce and deliver the crop.
While it is critical that GMB receives maize with the right moisture content for ease of proper storage, as custodians of national granaries, the parastatal should have foreseen challenges the farmers are facing following a prolonged rainy season and invested in dryers to deal with cases where the gap between the recommended levels of moisture and the maize being delivered is almost negligible.
In addition, GMB should be proactive by ensuring that farmers are aware of their requirements before they make the trip to its depots.
GMB officials should be out there educating farmers and assisting them to assess the moisture content of their maize while still at their farms or plots instead of throwing them to the wolves by turning them away at the depots.
There should also be tight monitoring of officials to ensure that the moisture content levels are in fact consistent instead of fluctuating according to the whims of the GMB official.
Farmers should also be attended to on a first come, first served basis to ensure transparency and to build confidence in the system.
Given the challenges and costs involved in transporting grain from the farms to GMB, it’s understandable that most farmers will jump at the chance to dispose of their maize to middlemen even at prices that are below those offered by GMB.
The Command Agriculture Programme should continue to evolve and this can only happen if farmers follow the right channels.
GMB should take a cue from the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) which has instructed that all tobacco that has been delivered to the floors, but cannot be sold for one reason or other cannot be taken out. It is retained within the floors while the matter is being sorted out.
Prior to the directive, farmers were allowed to withdraw their tobacco if it could not be sold, but they immediately fell prey to middlemen that were hanging around the floors. Now we have more or less similar allegations that GMB officials are working in cahoots with unscrupulous middlemen to fleece desperate maize producers.
Such allegations should be taken seriously and investigations carried out to ensure the perpetrators are brought to book. The efforts of hard-working farmers should not go unrewarded as this threatens the whole programme since it compromises the ability of farmers to pay for the inputs they received from the Government.
The continuity of the programme depends on farmers successfully repaying their loans because Government cannot keep on pumping new money into agriculture when it operates on a severely constrained budget.
We hope GMB will quickly put its house in order and resolve these challenges for the benefit of the farmer. The farmer, as the person central to production, should emerge as the biggest winner if we are serious about the future of our agriculture industry.