The move, which has angered small-scale farmers and villagers, would have a profound effect on the country’s food security situation and Zanu PF’s political fortunes during the next elections.
Zimbabwe is facing a major food crisis after the Agricultural Technical and Extension Services revealed only 247 000 hectares of maize was planted countrywide by December 31 last year, down from 379 993 during the previous farming season.
Under pressure, President Robert Mugabe and cabinet recently deliberated on the issue and instructed Agriculture minister Joseph Made to provide details of who got what and when. The GMB is currently compiling a list of those who plundered its depots.
Ironically, Made and Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Didymus Mutasa are among the ministers named in the inputs scam. Details show Mutasa got 30 tonnes of top dressing fertiliser. Although this was within the acceptable range for A2 farmers, those who failed to acquire a single bag are complaining that he used his political muscle to grab the inputs.
Several other A2 farmers among them politicians, senior civil servants and service chiefs, who were given farms during the controversial land reform programme, also received large amounts of inputs.
While ministers and other powerful people collected their inputs in trucks, villagers waited in vain with empty wheelbarrows. At some depots A2 farmers reportedly grabbed the entire stocks as helpless villagers stood in queues.
Officials said some influential A2 farmers accessed up to 40 tonnes of basal fertiliser and an additional 40 tonnes of top dressing fertiliser, resulting in the outcry.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba confirmed Mugabe was aware of complaints from villagers, but said some of the problems were caused by an arrangement by GMB managers to pay A2 farmers for the produce they had delivered using inputs.
He said this had resulted in A2 farmers, “who include ministers and MPs”, taking all inputs at some depots, angering villagers.
“There is so much bitterness and even in my rural home Buhera, people are not happy. For some strange reason, there was a decision by GMB managers, that farmers could get inputs from some depots as payment for the produce they had delivered,” said Charamba.
“This resulted in some A2 farmers getting AN fertiliser while other persons were waiting and in some cases all of it was wiped out as they watched. The farmers were getting their value, but naturally that was not understood by those who failed to get the inputs. Where a commodity is in short supply, you are bound to have distribution apprehensions.”
Made yesterday blamed GMB managers for the problem, accusing them of failing to give fertiliser to communal A1 farmers and those in the old resettlement areas.
He said his ministry wanted to know why GMB officials gave fertiliser to A2 farmers and excluded the needy farmers who were given seeds only.
Made said: “The problem was that GMB managers gave maximum allocation of fertiliser to A2 farmers when it was clear that the product was in short supply. Logically the GMB managers should have used their rational in giving out the fertilizer. It does not make sense to give A2 farmers lorries full of fertiliser while villagers are waiting with wheelbarrows but failing to access the commodity”.
The minister added: “There was irresponsibility on behalf of GMB managers at depots even in communal areas. As a manager if you are inundated with 1000 farmers waiting to get fertiliser then you only give one or two farmers then there is something wrong with you.”
Made said he has since ordered an audit at GMB to know who got what. He said cabinet had also directed Finance minister Tendai Biti to pay for 3 800 metric tonnes of urea fertiliser which, however, still falls short of the national requirement.
With predictions by the Meteorological Department that there are going to be rains for the next two months a lot of leaching was to be expected hence a higher demand of the fertiliser, he said.
Charles Taffs, president of the Commercial Farmers Union, said this week the hectarage had since gone up to about a million, but the country needs about two million tones although is likely to harvest around 600 000 tonnes. This will result in a massive shortfall of 1,4 million tonnes.
The low yields are a result of the combination of late planting, nitrogen shortage and excessive rains for the late planted crop.
The country produced about 1,5 tonnes of maize in the 2010/11 season, but still had to import to meet the national need.
The Zimbabwe Farmers Union, which represents the majority of small-scale farmers, said most farmers had written off their crop after failing to acquire fertiliser.
“There has been a massive shortage of AN fertiliser on the market. The acute shortage of that commodity, coupled with the late onset of rains would be the principal reason explaining the possibility of a reduction in yields this season,” said the ZFU chief economist Prince Kuipa.
“It is a sad situation really and it is too late even if top dressing fertiliser becomes available…Most farmers have already written off their crop as a result of the shortage.”
Zanu PF is said to be pushing for an investigation because it believes the abuse will cost the party votes in next crucial elections either this year or next year.
The MDC formations are bitter because they believe the inputs were distributed along partisan political lines.
Officials in the Ministry of Agriculture said Zanu PF bigwigs took advantage of the policy inconsistencies and poor planning by the ministry to grab the fertiliser from GMB depots countrywide starting December 29 last year.
They said there was now tremendous pressure on the ministry to justify its distribution criteria. As a result, the ministry last week directed GMB to stop giving fertilizer to A2 farmers while other categories of farmers were limited to only one bag.
“Please note that no fertiliser will be allocated to A2 farmers under the current input loan scheme anymore,” reads part of a letter written to GMB by the permanent secretary Ngoni Masoka dated February 8.
This followed a December 28 directive from the ministry to allow GMB to give A2 farmers a maximum of 40 tonnes each of basal and top dressing fertiliser while communal farmers were only allowed to access 25 kgs.
After the directive, GMB generated an internal circular (79 of 2001) advising depot managers to follow the ministry’s instructions
On January 11, the ministry issued another directive for the tonnage to be reduced from 40 tonnes to 20 tonnes after it became apparent the shortages were severe. The tonnage was further reduced, leading to last week’s directive to stop A2 farmers from accessing fertiliser.
“The problem is that by the time the tonnage was reduced most chefs had already acquired large stocks, leaving very little for the ordinary people. It has to be noted however that there were shortages already because government only managed to acquire 32% of the required stock, so the majority of farmers were destined to lose out,” said the official.
“What worsened the problem is that the ministry allowed some people to get about 40 tonnes while others failed to get a single bag. This has caused serious problems.”
GMB corporate communications manager Muriel Zemura said her organisation had not acted corruptly but merely followed the ministry’s guidelines on distributing inputs.