Africa

Zim grain board starved for money

Marcus Mushonga

Workers and farmers in Zimbabwe are not being paid and the agricultural minister says a cash injection is urgent.

Growing pain: Zimbabwe’s maize production is in decline and farmers often have to wait for months to be paid by the Grain Marketing Board. (Alexander Joe/AFP)

A financial crisis has crippled the state-run Grain Marketing Board (GMB) and its workers have not been paid for months.

The board buys, stores and sells cereals on behalf of the state.

The parastatal apparently also owes millions of dollars to farmers who have not been paid for last season's crops.

Workers say they have not received their salaries for three months.

"We no longer get our salaries on time and the situation is worsening on each day," said Gamuchira Mudukuti, a worker at the board.

"We last got paid in October and it would appear we are going to face these challenges in the long run if a solution is not found as a matter of urgency," said another, who did not want to be identified.

Possibility of retrenchments
Sources at the parastatal say its management has mooted the possibility of retrenchments if it does not receive financial assistance within four months.

"We have no option but to lay off some of our workers because the situation is deplorable," said a company official, who is not authorised to talk to the press.

"As we speak, we have not been able to clear all the debts, especially money for farmers, some of whom delivered their farm produce sometime last year," he said.

"Against this background, we have to look for money to pay workers on time but this has not been possible because most of the financial resources are being channelled towards the purchases and importation of the maize crop as hunger and starvation have tightened their grip on communities," he said.

The exact amount owed to farmers could not be established but, working on what farmers delivered to the board, it could run into millions of dollar.

The agricultural industry itself has taken a nosedive. Last year, only 20 000 tonnes of cereals out of an anticipated 1.2-million tonnes were delivered to the board. Zimbabwe is currently importing maize from South Africa.

Deal collapses
Initially it was importing the grain from Zambia but Zimbabwe could not secure favourable repayment terms with Zambia and the deal collapsed.

Albert Mandizha, the general manager of the board, could not be reached for comment and its spokesperson, Muriel Zemure, did not respond to written questions.

Agriculture Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Joseph Made confirmed that all was not well at the board.

"There is a need for capital injection into the GMB and we have approached treasury for this," Made said. "We need to pay our farmers on time so that they will never hesitate to bring their produce to us."

He also said the welfare of workers had to be addressed. Between 2011 and 2012, at least 75 000 tonnes of grain were damaged by moisture, rot and termites because of poor storage conditions at the board's 70 depots.

Although the parastatal is in financially dire straits, Made banned the private importation of maize this month, which handed the board a monopoly on maize procurement, which shocked grain importers.

Many of those in the industry criticised the move and said the board did not have the capacity to fulfil the mandate.

They also said the timing is a problem, because the World Food Programme has said about two million people in Zimbabwe face starvation this year and urgently need food aid.

Aid agencies have estimated that at least $60-million is required to import the food needed. — CAJ News

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