EDITORIAL COMMENT: GMB must protect farmers

The Grain Marketing Board (GMB) has been the buyer of choice for Zimbabwean farmers for decades, but developments in recent years have seen growers shunning the parastatal, opting to deal with private buyers.

It is, however, debatable whether farmers are benefiting from these private deals or they are being short-changed. The truth is GMB has a huge task to restore confidence among farmers, some of whom had abandoned growing cereal crops such as maize in favour of cash crops that offer instant cash on delivery.

The ball is now in the court of the new GMB boss, Mr Rockie Mutenha, to transform the parastatal so that it rises again to the challenges of grain storage and prompt payment to the producers.

On Tuesday we reported Government urging farmers and institutions that grew maize under the special maize import substitution programme (Command Agriculture) to register for a stop order facility with GMB.

There is a strong emphasis that those caught side-marketing will be blocked from participating or benefiting from future similar programmes.

This stop order system seeks to facilitate deductions for inputs received during the 2015-16 cropping season. You receive a loan and you have to pay back. This is a business culture that should be promoted among Zimbabweans, not a culture of abusing revolving facilities meant to benefit all farmers. We implore the new GMB chief to be unpopular among workers, GMB clients, among them politicians, and ensure the company plays its strategic role of storing and value adding the cereals for the benefit of the country.

The figure of 2,7 million tonnes of grain expected to be delivered is just a projection, over three million tonnes may be produced and the country must not suffer avoidable post-harvest losses due to lack of proper storage facilities. We urge the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development to ensure that all agro-related departments harness their efforts and ensure that not a single grain is lost.

Treasury should play ball by making sure that money to pay farmers is mobilised, even by floating bonds and Treasury bills so that growers who worked to produce bumper crops are adequately rewarded, and timely too.

In spite of threats by Government to deal with side-marketers, reports abound that dealers are already feasting on Command Agriculture produce, offering farmers as little as $180 cash per tonne compared to Government’s lucrative $390.

History has shown that no matter how eye catching the price may be, it rarely gets to the farmer on time, resulting in those cash squeezed letting go of their crop for a song.

Poor payment plans have a negative effect of dampening farmers’ spirits, resulting in some of them turning to cash crops. This must stop forthwith. Good pay schemes will naturally deal with the side-marketers. We challenge the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to tighten cash management so that unscrupulous businesspeople do not withdraw huge amounts of money they later use to buy maize from farmers.

They later deliver the maize to GMB and manipulate the systems and become the first to be paid at Government prices, thereby disadvantaging genuine producers.

The bumper harvest as a result of Command Agriculture is a litmus test that the GMB must pass because indications are that the country is likely to continue posting higher yields.

Zimbabwe is expecting a bumper harvest of 2,7 million tonnes of cereals, with 2,1 million tonnes expected to come from maize, while the remaining 600 000 tonnes will come from small grains such as pearl millet, finger millet, rapoko and sorghum.

GMB has 85 depots across the country and has established 1 882 collection points countrywide to enable farmers to reduce transport costs when delivering grain.

Farmers must make maximum use of these and shame detractors of the programme.

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