Daniel Nemukuyu Investigations and Special Reports Editor
MISUSE of farming inputs by some criminal elements, insufficient seed and lack of proper machinery have rendered most prison farms idle with little production that is insufficient to feed the ballooning prison population, The Herald can reveal.
A number of Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) staffers have over the years been arrested and prosecuted for diverting farming inputs either to their farms or to the parallel market.
The country’s prisons have a carrying capacity of 17 000 inmates but, currently, close to 20 000 are in languishing jail.
ZPCS, which has failed to sustain itself, now relies on Treasury funding to feed the inmates.
Ideally, ZPCS with all the cheap labour, land and farming expertise is expected to produce enough food for inmates all year round plus surplus for sale, but the production has been extremely poor over the years.
Prisoners are gobbling almost close to $2,5 million monthly in basic foodstuffs like mealie-meal, cooking oil and sugar.
Daily the prisoners require 11 560kg of mealie-meal, 7 706ml of cooking oil, 9 633kg of sugar, vegetables and other foodstuffs.
ZPCS Commissioner-General Retired Major-General Paradzai Zimondi lamented the underutilisation of the farms.
He attributed poor production to insufficient inputs and lack of farming equipment.
“We do not have proper farming equipment at our farms. We also lack the inputs. Although we have the labour, we fail to fully utilise the all the 23 farms that we have. If we had the machinery and enough seed we could have been somewhere. With all the required tractors, disc harrows, combine harvesters, centre pivots, we can produce enough for our inmates as well as surplus for the market,” said Comm-General Zimondi.
Investigations by The Herald revealed that some prison officers working at the farms were in the habit of either stealing or misusing the inputs meant for ZPCS farms.
Asked to comment on the issue, Comm-General Zimondi confirmed theft was rife saying those caught diverting or stealing inputs had since been arrested.
“We have had cases of theft and misuse of farming inputs but the culprits get arrested and we allow the law to take its course,” said Comm-General Zimondi.
In 2014, three ZPCS staff members based at Chikurubi farm were arrested for allegedly stealing over seven tonnes of urea fertiliser, 12 bags of 50kg of compound fertiliser each, 113 litres of dual chemicals, 38 litres of Diamethoate chemicals, two size 16 tractor trailer tyres, 605 packs, each of 200g of Shumba Dust and five by 16 litres knapsack sprayers.
They have since appeared at the Harare Magistrates’ Court facing theft charges. Twenty-five bags of urea were recovered from two people who had bought from the officers.
In another case of looting, a top prison officer in Mashonaland West made news for allegedly stealing four tonnes of urea from Hurungwe prison farm.
She reportedly hired a vehicle and diverted the fertiliser to her own farm. Out of 23 farms owned by ZPCS countrywide, only three are producing to expectation.
The prisons boss said two farms— one in Mashonaland East and another in Mashonaland West—which have irrigation equipment were being fully utilised.
“Two of our farms that have centre pivots — in Mashonaland East and Mashonaland West—are producing well. They produce enough for the prisons in their respective provinces and also cater for other non-producing prisons,” Comm-Gen Zimondi said.
However, Command Agriculture has, over the past few years, boosted production at some of the farms with Mashonaland West harvesting 860 tonnes of maize last year.
Thanks to Government intervention, ZPCS harvested 100 tonnes of maize in 2017 while Chikurubi farm has boosted food security for the inmates through improved production in the 2018-2019 farming season.
At least 200 hectares were put under Command Maize.