That the cash-strapped Grain Marketing Board (GMB) will struggle to pay for maize delivered to the parastatal is hardly surprising.
What raised eyebrows however were remarks by Agriculture deputy minister Paddy Zhanda encouraging farmers to sell maize to private buyers.
Zhanda recently told the National Assembly that the parastatal had to date not been allocated funds to procure maize due to financial constraints. He added that the GMB was “the buyer of last resort”, a surprising depature from government’s insistence farmers sell maize to the parastatal.
Government, Zhanda said, had set the buying price of US$390 per tonne this season as a benchmark to farmers who wanted to sell their maize to private buyers.
This was probably the first time since the country’s Independence in 1980, that such a senior government official has uttered words completely divorced from the usual call for farmers to rush to GMB depots with their maize.
Barely a week later, Agriculture minister Joseph Made called for a press conference where he rubbished Zhanda’s remarks.
Analysts say this is a clear demonstration of not only contradictions in government, but in the ministry as well.
“The GMB has been tasked by government to buy maize as it relates to the strategic grain reserve, which requires 500 000 metric tonnes annually, and I want to emphasise that the GMB is not a buyer of last resort,” Made said.
“The GMB is tasked to buy grain at the beginning of the season and it buys continuously, which means farmers deliver grain throughout the season at the first instance by the farmer’s choice.”
Economist Godfrey Kanyenze said the recent contradictions between Made and his deputy showed that all is not well at GMB.
“There are serious challenges at the GMB,” Kanyenze noted. “The indictment is the discord between the minister and his deputy.”
He said while the deputy minister’s remarks were a true reflection of the situation at the GMB, Made was only giving “a politically correct” position that did not mirror the reality on the ground.
Kanyenze said Zhanda’s exhortation for farmers to prioritise private buyers ahead of the GMB was “someone basically throwing in the towel”.
He said there was a need to be honest on the problems bedeviling GMB.
“If the minister is not going to give the correct position on GMB, then it will be like an ostrich burying its head in the sand, hoping the problem will disappear,” Kanyenze said.
He said the country’s strategic grain reserve has been struggling for some time characterised by poor funding and dilapidated infrastructure and called for a rethink on how to resuscitate the parastatal.
The Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union second vice president, Berean Mukwende said that government needs to urgently look for funds to enable GMB to pay farmers timeously for their produce.
He said if farmers are likely to be short changed if they sell to private buyers. He said private buyers would buy maize at a song and sell it for a substantially higher price which will affect not only the farmers but consumers and government as well.
Mukwende said it was the government’s sole responsibility to feed the populace and this could not be abdicated to private buyers.
He said the buying price set by the government of US$390 will only allow the farmers to break even and fell short of their
ecommended buying price of US$420.
The GMB has a long history of loss-making and mismanagement with workers going for seven months without pay.
In 2012, the parastatal held its first annual general meeting in 81 years and in the same year, former State Enterprises and Parastatals minister Gorden Moyo presented a damning report to cabinet detailing how parastatals were continuing to perform dismally with the majority making losses amounting to millions of US dollars.
The country requires 1,8 million tonnes of maize annually.