By Elita Chikwati
Cabinet has warned unscrupulous businesspeople fleecing farmers by offering low prices for maize and contractors buying the crop they did not finance, to desist from the activity as the State will take punitive action against them.
Government gazetted a maize producer price of $390 per tonne. The warning comes as some middlemen are buying maize at low prices and selling to the Grain Marketing Board, which is offering the gazetted price.
In most areas, the middlemen are buying a bucket of maize for between $1,50 and $2 and in some cases farmers are not given cash, but groceries in exchange.
Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Dr Joseph Made yesterday confirmed that Cabinet had taken a position to protect maize farmers and to ensure grain was directed to the Strategic Grain Reserve for the country to become self-sufficient.
“We are going to put stringent measures that relate to anyone trying to undermine activities of Government in relationship to grain supply to the Grain Marketing Board,” he said.
“There are others trying to underpay farmers selling maize. We have some merchants who had been licensed by the Agricultural Marketing Authority and these are buying maize they did not contract and we will deal with them. “We are going to invoke those licences and we will instruct AMA accordingly.”
Dr Made said Government respected contractual agreements and urged farmers who were contracted not to side market the crop, so as to build confidence in financiers.
“Grain should be delivered to the GMB,” he said. “Farmers want cash, but we should not rip them off. We do not want farmers who are coming out from two to three consecutive droughts to suffer. We want them to build reserves and realise profits from their crops so that they can be able to stand for themselves.
“We want to push for cash for farmers and payment for transporters and ensuring farmers have access to packaging bags. “But, generally the mood is good as everybody is in good business, not only maize farmers, but their counterparts in different sectors.”
The 2016 /17 season was characterised by high rainfall and floods in some areas. Farmers have been urged to be patient and wait for the maize to dry before harvesting, as early harvesting could cause the crop with high moisture content to rot
“GMB should also speed up the acquisition of grain bags because all farmers across the sectors have a lot of crop and do not have packaging material,” said Dr Made.
“Soon, we will be getting into the peak period of harvesting and farmers should have the packaging material by then.” On cotton, Dr Made said harvesting was progressing well and contractors who did not give a full package of inputs were not going to be licensed.
He said Cottco was the sole buyer of the cotton funded under the Presidential Inputs Support Scheme. Zimbabwe is expecting a bumper harvest of 2,7 million tonnes of cereals, of which 2,1 million tonnes are expected from maize, while the remaining 600 000 tonnes will come from small grains like pearl millet, rapoko, finger millet and sorghum.
The high yields have been attributed to Government’s inputs programmes such as Command Agriculture and Presidential Inputs Support Scheme, the farmers’ hard work and good rains the country received during the 2016-17 season.