‘Grain reserves below expectations’
Elita Chikwati Agriculture Reporter
The Grain Marketing Board has 118 000 tonnes of maize in its Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR), well below the 500 000 tonnes that the SGR should hold at any given time.
Acting general manager Mr Lawrence Jasi told Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee last week that the board has 118 000 tonnes of maize in the SGR against a requirement of 150 000 tonnes of maize per month.
The SGR ensures national food security and is distributed to areas of deficit in times of need.
Mr Jasi said GMB was failing to procure and maintain the SGR as Treasury was taking too long to avail funds.
He told parliamentarians that the grain was also deteriorating in quality due to financial challenges.
This led to the deterioration of 61 000 tonnes of maize over the past season.
Parliamentarians accused GMB of wasting grain that should be fed to food insecure people.
“The SGR is run 100 percent by Government and we rely on Treasury for resources. The quality of the grain depends on storage resources. We should have proper storage bags, the grading process should also be proper and we need chemicals for fumigation,” he said.
“This season the situation is better. We have stored the maize in safe bins and we are moving the grain to depots with proper handling infrastructure to reduce losses. We also carry routine checks and fumigations.’’
Mr Jasi said the GMB had also refurbished its Norton depot and would soon move to Bulawayo to refurbish the silos.
He said Treasury was taking long to release funds for the management of the SGR and to pay farmers.
The GMB requires $1,5 million per month to manage and maintain the SGR.
“If given funds by Treasury on time, we can pay farmers in 14 days. Delayed payments have reduced the SGR. We still have traditional collecting points but we have had difficulties collecting the maize as some farmers demand their money before the grain can be moved to safer depots,” he said.
Parliamentarians questioned the logic of GMB buying grain from farmers at a high price of $390 per tonne and selling to millers for between $400 and $445 per tonne.
Mr Jasi said there were no takers for the GMB maize since it was expensive compared to cheap imports which were landing at around $300 per tonne.
Parliamentarians felt that the price being offered by GMB was high and unviable and suggested that it be reviewed downwards.
Acting Permanent Secretary, Mr Joseph Gondo, said most farmers were selling their grain to private buyers who had ready cash.
He said buyers were offering low prices of around $180 per tonne and farmers were selling out of desperation.
The GMB is offering the highest price of $390 per tonne although it does not have ready cash.
“We offer farmers a higher price than other countries in the region because we want to motivate farmers to continue producing the crop, he said.
“When coming up with a producer price, we consider the costs of production and put a mark-up of at least 20 percent so farmers will be able to break even and go back to the lands.”
Mr Gondo argued that farmers in the region had their inputs subsidised and these could not be compared with Zimbabwe, which had high production costs.
He said Agritex was educating farmers to boost yields per unit area.