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August 11, 2019

New Marketing Policy Threatens Zimbabwean Maize Farmers' Viability

When the government here announced a policy requiring farmers to sell their grain only to the state-owned Grain Marketing Board at a fixed price, Beauty Sandukwa dutifully delivered her maize.
Sandukwa has worked the land for nearly 20 years. This year, she harvested 42 tonnes of maize from 20 hectares.

But she says the government didn’t keep its end of the bargain. “It’s been four weeks now, but I have not been paid,” she says.

The new policy isn’t the only thing causing Sandukwa’s instability. In 2015, she says she signed up to receive farming supplies through a program called Command Agriculture, which first launched that same year. Under that program, the government dictates the types and volume of crops a farmer will produce, as well as the price at which they will be sold. In exchange, the farmer receives supplies, including seeds and fertilizer.

The government said that the program would help replace imported maize with domestic maize. But farmers said the promised supplies were delivered late, or not at all.

Sandukwa says she received 1 tonne of fertilizer through the Command Agriculture program, the cost of which will be deducted when she sells her maize to the Grain Marketing Board. The problem, she says, is that she doesn’t know what that amount will be.

When she needed additional fertilizer and supplies, she says, the government couldn’t provide them. Now, she buys them herself. “l ended up selling one of my cows to cover the costs,” she says.

The new regulation requiring that farmers sell their maize to the Grain Marketing Board was enacted in June. Under that regulation, farmers are no longer allowed to move more than 250 kilograms (551 pounds) of the crop from one area to another, unless it’s being transported to the Grain Marketing Board.

Rockie Mutenha, the general manager for the Grain Marketing Board, says the regulation is meant to keep maize from being smuggled to other countries, as well as to protect farmers from unscrupulous buyers.

The Grain Marketing Board will use the maize to ensure the nation’s food security, Mutenha says.

For farmers, though, the regulation makes growing maize unaffordable. Seeds, fertilizer and other supplies were purchased using U.S. dollars, which was the gold standard currency in Zimbabwe when the growing season began. But the Zimbabwean government has since issued its own currency, which swings wildly in value.

Mutenha says the Grain Marketing Board has increased its fixed price per tonne from 726 Zimbabwe dollars ($72) to 2,100 Zimbabwe dollars ($208) to account for inflation.

But that’s not adequate, says Antoinette Chigwe, the chief economist at Commercial Farmers Union, a major farmers’ organization. If the government continues to force farmers to sell to the Grain Marketing Board, many will likely abandon farming in upcoming seasons, she says, or break the law.

“They may need to look for more lucrative markets,” Chigwe says.

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