Freedom to import grain a hoax


Augustine Mukaro

GOVERNMENT claims that it has opened grain imports to private players has turned out to be a hoax as only stockfeeds processing companies are getting import licences.
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Finance minister Herbert Murerwa, in his mid-term fiscal policy review statement, said the state-owned Grain Marketing Board (GMB) would no longer exercise a monopoly in maize and wheat trade while import of the two commodities and other food-aid items by private firms would not be subject to duty.


Murerwa said it was critical for the private sector to participate in supporting drought relief efforts. To facilitate private sector food imports, several import licences had been issued, he said. He said duty and VAT on all such imports would be waived.


Investigations by the Zimbabwe Independent have revealed that only stockfeed processing companies have benefited from the five licences that have been issued so far.


“Stockfeeds producers have not been getting allocations from either GMB coffers or imported grain, adversely affecting their business,” an official at the GMB said. He said National Foods, Agrifoods and other traditional stockfeeds companies already have licences to import grain for stockfeeds.


Of the country’s 1,8 million tonnes national requirement, about 400 000 tonnes was used for stockfeeds which included dairy, beef, poultry and piggery needs.


National Foods chief executive Ian Kind confirmed his company had a grain importing licence for stockfeeds only.


“Our licence allows us to import stockfeeds only,” Kind said “Grain for human consumption is handled by the GMB. We are not allowed to import grain for human consumption and if there are any companies with licences they should be doing stockfeeds.”


Kind said his company had not been importing any grain lately because of shortages in foreign currency and was relying on the GMB’s sporadic supplies to remain operational.


“We have not been importing grain because there is no foreign currency so our operations have been relying on small supplies from the GMB,” he said.

Analysts said government’s position on grain imports was worrying in view of the critical food shortages in both urban and rural areas. An estimated 4,3 million people face starvation unless 1,2 million tonnes of food aid are urgently provided.


Total maize production is down to between 750 000 and 1 000 000 tonnes, against national requirements of 1,8 million tonnes. This leaves import requirements of up to 1,2 million tonnes.


Murerwa said only 300 000 tonnes of maize had so far been imported because of foreign currency shortages.Analysts said recently government has resorted to ad hoc measures to avail forex needed to import food, fuel, medical drugs and electricity.


Zimbabwe faces its worst agricultural season since Independence in 1980 due a critical shortages of seed, fertiliser and agricultural equipment.


*Meanwhile, Zimbabwe currently has three weeks of grain supply in its silos, Secretary for Agriculture Simon Pazvakavambwa told a CZI Congress in Nyanga yesterday.


He said it was crazy to pay local farmers $2 million a tonne when government is importing grain from South Africa at between $8 million and $9 million a tonne.


Speaking about the RBZ Public Sector Funding (PSF) programme, Pazvakavambwa said: “I don’t think it is right for RBZ to run agriculture.It is crazy to fund a product that matures in two years and expect loan repayment in six months.”


Farmers organisations and fertiliser and chemical companies this week revealed to a parliamentary portfolio committee on agriculture that there won’t be enough inputs this year. Fertiliser companies told the committee that their warehouses were empty. The Zimbabwe Seed Traders Association said there were only 28 660 tonnes of maize seed in the country, slightly more than a third of what is needed.