The Sunday Mail
Some farmers in Mbire district, especially those in and around Mahuwe, Mushumbi and Chitsungo growth points, are selling Government-issued inputs on the black market.Most of the farmers who have been on the selling spree are mostly those who benefitted from Government’s desire to improve the well-being of cotton farmers through the provision of free inputs, weighed in with an improved producer price of 55 cents per kilogramme.
Over the past decade-and-half, cotton farmers have grappled with low cotton lint producer prices, a result of depressed international markets. On the other hand, the farmers have always been complaining that cotton buyers are fleecing them after providing them with inputs. The farmers charge that the repayment schedule provided by buyers after providing inputs is rather extortionate.
In a bid to address the long-standing impasse, Government moved in last year to issue the free cotton inputs – from seed, herbicides, pesticides to fertilizers, both compound and ammonium nitrate.
These are the inputs that have found themselves on the black market, especially the fertilizers, which are selling for as cheap as $10 per 50kg bag.
One of the farmers who spoke to The Sunday Mail Extra last week in Mushumbi justified selling the fertilizers, arguing that soils in the Zambezi escarpment do not need any fertilizers.
She said that once they apply fertilizers and the rains stop falling, the crops wilt. To be on the safe side, the farmer said, they don’t bother applying fertilizers in the first instance, hence the massive selling spree.
However, a stores clerk with Cottco Mushumbi, Bothwell Bhamuya, in neither confirming nor denying that farmers are abusing the free inputs, particularly fertilizers, said that they ask farmers to bring the empty bags of the inputs to prove that they would have used them before getting fresh allocations.
He also said from time to time, a field officer does physical inspections of the fields to check if the inputs have been put to good use.
At Mahuwe and Mushumbi townships, it is very easy to come across a farmer selling fertilizers. “It has been a while since they got allocations so you need to get into villages. If you come here on the day they receive their allocations, you can buy here at the township,” said a Mushumbi resident who requested anonymity.
Bhamuya, the Cottco stores clerk, said they had distributed 6 098 pockets of 20kg cotton seed, which translates to 6 098 hectares, 300 units of one-litre herbicides, 10 600 units of pesticides, 5 640 bags of 50kg Compound L and 517 knapsacks so far. They are awaiting delivery of ammonium nitrate. He said whilst farmers are not expected to pay back for the inputs, the added incentive is that the cotton lint will be bought at a pre-agreed price of 55 cents per kilogramme, an improvement from last year’s 35 cents.
Meanwhile, whilst farmers in Lower Guruve (Mbire district) are having a “field day” selling the fertilizers, their counterparts in Upper Guruve are the buyers of the fertilizers. In Upper Guruve, some communal farmers who signed for Command Agriculture are yet to receive their compound fertilizer allocations, thereby creating the demand for the fertilizers.
Besides farmers, even businesspeople in Upper Guruve are travelling to Mbire to buy the fertilizers to stock their shops. After buying the fertilizers for $10 per 50kg bag, they then sell for an average of $25 per bag.
A field extension officer in Upper Guruve, who refused to be identified, confirmed that some communal farmers under his watch are yet to receive their compound fertilizers and those that can afford are buying and will wait for Government to solve the puzzle.
The three-year Command Agriculture contracts provides seed, compound fertilizers, ammonium nitrate, pesticides and herbicides. Upon harvesting, farmers will deliver five tonnes of maize per hectare to the Grain Marketing Board, get paid for two-and-half tonnes, with the remainder paying for the inputs. Any yield above the five tonnes will be disposed at the farmer’s discretion.