Zim food supply goes up in smoke

Isaac Mawere's thriving tobacco farm is a good indication of why Zimbabwe has resorted to importing food. This year, he has increased the amount of land under tobacco, cutting down significantly on the crop he has grown for many years.

In the shadows of Murehwa's towering grain silos, a monument to Mashonaland East's past glory as part of the country's maize belt, Mawere mourns the time he wasted growing mealies.

"Many farmers are doing the same," says Mawere (44).

Across much of what was the country's breadbasket, fields of grain are being replaced by tobacco. This has meant better earnings for thousands of farmers, but it has left the country short of maize and forced the government to import grain.

The World Food Programme says 2.2-million Zimbabweans will need food aid this year, after the country failed to harvest enough maize.

For farmers like Mawere, this is hardly surprising. Last year, he made over $15 000 from his tobacco crop. But for the nine tonnes he delivered to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), the state grain buyer, he got nothing. A year later, he is one of thousands of farmers across the country who have still not been paid for their grain.

GMB general manager Albert Mandizha admits that the board owes farmers more than $10-million, dating as far back as February last year. The government is putting up the money to pay farmers and hopes to convince them to keep growing food.

"The government has now availed $9.2-million to the GMB to go towards settling farmers's outstanding payments. The payments are 18 months overdue. We have not been able to pay the farmers for the past two harvests," Mandizha says.

Late planting
"The GMB should pay farmers in time so that they can buy their inputs early to avoid late planting," said Johnson Mapira, vice-president of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union, a group of large-scale black commercial farmers.

There is little funding for farmers, and those who are funding agriculture are staying clear of food crops.

A consortium of banks has put up $620-million to fund this year's farming season. Half of that will go to tobacco, and maize producers will get only 4.8% of it.

"We have come up with funding for agriculture, but we don't know whether the money is going to the priority areas where funding is really needed," admits Bankers Association of Zimbabwe president George Guvamatanga.

Depinah Nkomo, who heads a trust that provides support to female farmers, says much of the money going into agriculture is benefiting growers of cash crops.

"We, as farmers, grow different crops and there should be a balance in the way the funds are distributed," Nkomo says.

"If the bulk of it goes to tobacco, then the country will not have enough food."

Cheap financing

The government has raised $161-million to buy seed and fertiliser for 1.6-million small-scale farmers, who for decades have been the largest providers of grain. But Zimbabwe Farmers Union vice-president Berean Mukwende, whose union represents poorer farmers, says farmers need between $2-billion and $3-billion.

In the absence of cheap financing, and with no payments from the GMB, farmers are trapped by bank loans that charge interest as high as 26% and levy penalty fees of up to 50% for late repayments.

Desperate to stem the tide of farmers turning away from growing food crops, the government is pushing banks to postpone their debts.

"We don't mean we want the [farmers'] debts cancelled, but we want to see whether the repayments can be restructured," says Agriculture Minister Joseph Made.

Tobacco farmers earned $607-million this year, up from $520-million last year. Production rose to 165-million kilograms from 141-million kilograms in 2012.

In 2004, according to the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board, there were only 4 000 black small-scale tobacco farmers in the country.

Maize
This year, over 90 638 farmers registered as tobacco growers, up from 68 604 last year. Of those who ­registered this year, nearly 30 000 are new.

This year, the government raised the price at which it buys maize from farmers to $378 a tonne, a 25% increase. But farmers want the price set at $496 a tonne.

"This price would motivate farmers to grow maize and ensure the country has enough food stocks in its reserves," says Mukwende.

Zimbabwe consumes about two million tonnes of maize a year, but produced only 968 000 tonnes in the 2011-12 season.

Production in the 2012-13 season is projected to have fallen to 789 000 tonnes, and the government has spent $60-million on importing grain from Zambia.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Jason Moyo
Guest Author
Advertisting

Stella set to retain her perks

Communication minister will keep Cabinet perks during her two months of special leave

Not a sweet deal, Mister

Mister Sweet workers say they will not risk their health, and the lives of others, to continue producing and packaging confectionaries

Covid-19 grounds Nigeria’s medical tourists

The country’s elites, including the president, travelled abroad for treatment but now they must use the country’s neglected health system

Nehawu launches urgent court bid over protective gear for health...

The health workers’ union says the government has rebuffed its attempts to meet about mitigating risks to workers

Press Releases

Rahima Moosa Hospital nursing college introduces no-touch facial recognition access system

The new system allows the hospital to enrol people’s faces immediately, using artificial intelligence, and integrates easily with existing access control infrastructure, including card readers and biometrics

Everyone’s talking about it. Even Kentucky

Earlier this year South African fried chicken fast-food chain, Chicken Licken®, launched a campaign for their wallet-friendly EasyBucks® meals, based on the idea of ‘Everyone’s talking about it.’

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world