THE agricultural portfolio should be pulled out of the belly of politics, if the sector is to perform viably, a farmers’ organisation has said.
Over a decade of underproduction in the agricultural sector has seen the country battling with intermittent food shortages since 2000.
Farmers’ organisations say there are some long-term solutions that could be employed so Zimbabwe could see the back of food insecurity once and for all.
“The whole agricultural portfolio should be pulled out of politics and be based only on economic value. If we base on any other values it’s not going to work,” Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) president Charles Taffs told the Financial Gazette this week.
“Let’s drop this black and white issue in agriculture. It has gone on too long. Let’s get busy and produce. The only way we can do this is if we all pull in one direction.”
According to CFU, while national consumption is two million tonnes, maize production this year was 650 000 and 750 000 tonnes in 2012.
According to a recently-published Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) rural livelihoods report, some 2,2 million people — one in four of the rural population — will need food assistance during the pre-harvest period of January–March 2014.
“We don’t have to be in this situation. We have ample land, ample water, ample people, ample everything,” said Taffs.
Berean Mukwende of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) agrees that it is not necessary for Zimbabwe to be food insecure.
“It does not make sense for Zimbabwe to import maize or to need any other food assistance for that matter. We have a comparative advantage when compared to our neighbours. We have the best climate, the best soil and the best hydrological factors,” Mukwende said.
According to Mukwende, the main problem affecting the production of maize is the pricing policy which places a low ceiling on the price of maize thereby rendering it unprofitable for farmers to produce it.
“Pricing policy should be reviewed upwards and make maize production profitable like what is happening with tobacco and soya beans. If it becomes profitable then farmers can produce more of it. It is not that our farmers cannot produce adequate maize supplies, they just switch to more profitable crops. It is a matter of pricing policy and the government should prioritise food matters not only tobacco,” Mukwende said.
“The low prices are set so that people are cushioned from exorbitant prices which they cannot afford, but if you look at times of shortages like now, people are already paying the exorbitant prices. Because maize is scarce due to low production, those with maize are selling it at very high prices like US$10 a bucket which leaves the people the government seeks to cushion, unprotected anyway,” said Mukwende arguing that there was no need to keep the maize producer price low.
The only people who benefit are the middlemen like millers and processors, Mukwende said.
“The middlemen are exploiting the situation and maximising their own profit. They buy the maize at very low prices from the farmer, then sell at very high prices to the consumer. And it’s not only the farmer and consumer who are exploited, even government suffers when the middlemen import maize. And mostly they import their maize,” he said.
According to ZFU, the current cost of producing maize is US$370 per tonne on average, while that of importing is US$450 a tonne.
There is therefore need for the pricing policy to be addressed as soon as possible, Mukwende said.
“A comprehensive strategy that has a multi-sectoral approach which addresses all the issues from infrastructure, the whole value chain, funding and other pertinent issues is what is needed,” Taffs said. “All stakeholders must be engaged and the sooner we do it the better. If we don’t address issues in the next 20 to 30 days it will be too late for the coming season.”
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