The Sunday Mail
The Government’s maize import ban together with a high buying price at the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) has triggered smuggling of grain into the country, it has emerged.
In a bid to protect local farmers following a bounty harvest, Government early this year banned maize imports and pegged GMB buying price at $390 per tonne, a figure more than double the prices being offered in the region.
With both South Africa and Zambia pegging their prices at no more than $150 per tonne, reports have emerged that smuggling rackets are now buying maize from these countries to resell at a profit at GMB.
Research shows that it costs anything between $60 and $100 to transport a tonne of maize from South Africa meaning the total cost of bringing the maize in the country may not cost more than $250.
Therefore, this leaves smugglers with a profit of more than a $100 per tonne, a handsome return given the fact that some are dealing with maize of not less than 30 tonnes per load.
“You don’t get to ask many questions because you are told the maize is for Government but then it’s clear to see that the whole process is dodgy,” said a well-placed source.
“Some of the grain is said to be in transit but then we hear that they are being offloaded somewhere and taken to GMB.”
Zimbabwe has 24 entry points but only 11 are properly manned with the remainder believed to be porous.
“But even at the well monitored border posts the grain is getting in, we are seeing it every day,” said the source.
Sources say powerful and well-connected officials may be at the core of the smuggling rackets. It is also believed that unscrupulous millers may be providing a good market the smugglers have a ready market.
Both Zambia and South Africa have had good seasons with the latter estimated to be in surplus of seven million tonnes of maize, a bulk of which could be set for Zimbabwe.
The Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Dr Davis Marapira, however, dismissed the smuggling reports.
“We stopped imports way back in February and I can confidently tell you that the ban is being enforced,” he said. If there is anyone with evidence of where the smuggling is taking place they should come forward and we will look into it. What I can say is that what people may have seen are the deliveries of the maize which had already been paid for by Government for food relief.”
Dr Marapira reiterated that the GMB price is consistent with Government’s efforts to empower local fa0rmers and boost the agriculture sector.
Agronomist Bernard Rwizi said while the ban and the price will elevate agriculture in the country, the benefit could be lost to criminals.
“It may seem far-fetched for the authorities that maize can be smuggled but if you dangle a $390 carrot, which is well higher than what others are offering, then smugglers will hound you from every corner. And if we are having tankers of fuel being smuggled in the country, truckloads of illicit drugs and cigarettes going through those same gates then what can stop maize? At GMB, we can’t trust that we have a proper system to screen where the maize is coming from because they already have their own mischief there.”
President of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union, Mr Wonder Chabikwa, said there was nothing wrong with both the ban and the GMB price but emphasised that Government should come up with follow-up strategies.
“As farmers we are happy with the ban but what we would want to see now is Government enforcing it,” he said.
“But going forward the issue of cost of production should be addressed properly because at the moment as a country we are vulnerable because our production costs are uncompetitive. If they were competitive we would not be having these problems.”
Zimbabwe Farmers Union executive director, Mr Paul Zakariya, weighed in saying all relevant authorities should now join hands to stop smuggling.
“There is every need to impose a ban now that we have established we had a bumper harvest, there is really no justification for importing,” he said. “Prices offered by GMB to local farmers are quite lucrative so the ban will benefit us as farmers. All the forces required to monitor the borders, ZRP and Zimra, should just do their work so we can stop the smuggling in of maize from the region.”
Zimbabwe is this year projected to have a harvest of 2,1 million tonnes of maize which is adequate for both human and livestock consumption. Reports are that most of the country’s silos are almost full due to success of the Command Agriculture Programme and the Presidential input scheme.
The country’s 12 silos are designed to hold up to 434 300 metric tonnes of strategic grain reserves. The GMB has a three million tonnes storage and handling capacity.
This includes 434 300 tonnes of silos, three million tonnes of hard stands and 173 700 tonnes of shed storage.