Minister of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Dr Joseph Made has disputed media reports that Government has banned maize and maize meal imports with immediate effect to protect local farmers.
The source of this information remains unclear, but last week Dr Made distanced his ministry from the utterances.
He pointed out with concern that the false information has caused alarm and despondency in the country and across the borders.
Dr Made clarified that last month he issued a statement recalling all import permits in order to address the clandestine issuing of permits outside the proper channels, among other things.
“That is the exercise we are currently undertaking together with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. This exercise is going on very well,’’ he said.
Dr Made also said his ministry was considering grain importation permit applications.
“Those who want to make applications through the media can do so, but I will not be deterred from discharging my duties,’’ he said. Therefore, some importers who are yet to be re-issued new permits are probably now impatient and might have concluded that the exercise is a ban on imports. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Grain Millers’ Association chairman Mr Tafadzwa Musarara is, however, adamant that indeed Government recently imposed a ban on maize and maize meal imports although he could not be drawn to say where he got the information.
Meanwhile, some farmers have already started delivering to the Grain Marketing Board depots countrywide where they are expected to be paid the floor price of US$390 a tonne while others are still harvesting.
Dr Made said a bumper harvest was expected this year. While importers have argued that the US$390 per tonne is too high and importing the product from Zambia and South Africa would be cheaper, their figures were disputed.
“They claim that the landing price of maize from South Africa and Zambia is US$285 and US$270 respectively.
“We do not want a situation where we are given figures that do not include all other charges including transport.
These prices are there for everyone to see. A tonne of maize cannot land in Zimbabwe with US$250. This is not correct,’’ charged Dr Made.
Mr Musarara said that the landing fees being thrown around by importers were as per the South African Features Exchange where prices of commodities are fixed. He argued that the US$390 per tone was already affecting contract farming arrangements where parties had initially agreed on lower prices.
Millers who contracted farmers are offering between US$300 and US$340 a tonne.
“We therefore respectfully propose that Government allow the gazetted price to apply to GMB purchases only, let private traders have their own prices. If GMB commences purchases at the new price, the market will correct itself.
“The danger of imposing compulsory adherence to US$390 is that the financier will not be keen to participate citing legal risks since buying at anything below US$390 would have been criminalised,’’ he said.
However, the ministry dismissed suggestions that those who traded at below US$390 would be criminalised. Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Mr Ringson Chitsiko disputed rumours that his ministry was currently crafting a Statutory Instrument to that effect.
“What we are encouraging is for buyers to purchase maize at not less than US$390 since we want to see our farmers capacitated with,’’ said Mr Chitsiko.
Dr Made also said Government had already budgeted US$96 million for the purchase of 250 000 metric tonnes towards the strategic grain reserves.
“I would want to congratulate the Binga farmer who was the first to deliver three metric tonnes of maize this season. As such, we continue receiving maize at our GMB depots with a total of 1 000 metric tonnes having been received to date.”
However, farmer organisations indicated that farmers need prompt payment upon delivering their maize to GMB.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president Mr Wonder Chabikwa said: “Our fear is that if Government fails to avail funds to GMB now, we are going to see a stream of buyers offering less than that to our farmers and they will be forced to accept that through desperation. They are likely to fall victim to traders who will take advantage if GMB does not have funds,’’ he said.
Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Deputy Minister (in charge of Crops) Davies Marapira opined to this and said although GMB still owes US$1,1 million to farmers for last season’s deliveries, Government was working flat out in making sure those arrears were cleared.
Farmers are, however, sceptical due to last season’s arrears.
“We are not sure how this is going to work. How can Government pay us promptly this season before clearing last season arrears,’’ asked a farmer from Bindura, Mr Moses Murambiwa.
While Government has targeted a total of 250 000 metric tonnes for the strategic reserves, analysts have questioned whether this will be enough to feed the nation in the event of a drought or other natural disaster. Zimbabwe’s annual consumption is 1,8 million tonnes.
Analysts are suggesting that the strategic reserves be increased so as to cushion the country from any such misfortunes.
“With an annual consumption of 1,8 million tonnes averagely, the 250 000 tonnes will feed the country’s 13 million people for about six weeks only.
“Therefore, we wonder how the Government has only targeted 250 000 metric tonnes at a time when the country is expecting a bumper harvest. Other countries’ strategic reserves are meant to cover a period of three to four years,’’ said an economist, Mr Aaron Chinyanga.
He said Zambia’s last season’s reserve was 500 000 metric tonnes and this season they were expecting about 3,3 million metric tonnes which would provide a surplus for exportation. Zambia’s estimated annual consumption of maize is about 2,8 million metric tonnes which is only slightly higher than Zimbabwe.
Zambian Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Mr Wilbur Simuusa recently said the 300 000 metric tonnes of maize from his country’s last season reserves would be exported as his country had lifted the ban export it had imposed late last year.
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