ZIMBABWE, which is experiencing severe food shortages, is facing a bleak 2015/16 summer cropping season as many farmers are financially hamstrung after failing to access payment for grain delivered to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) for two years, while weather experts are predicting a drought in the entire Sadc region.
The combined effects of the drought and GMB’s failure to pay farmers timeously is likely to result in low yields, worsening the food shortages especially in the dry southern and western parts of the country.
The 19th Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum (Sarcof-19), which met in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo last month, predicted that the region would receive insufficient rainfall during the forthcoming agricultural season that runs from October 2015 to March 2016.
Last month, the World Food Programme (WFP) predicted that 1,5 million Zimbabweans would go hungry this year after a fall in maize production.
WFP also said 16% of the population is expected to be food insecure at the peak of the 2015-16 lean season, the period following harvest when food stocks run low.
In May, Zimbabwe had 150 000 tonnes of grain in reserves against a national requirement of 1,5 million tonnes. The country is currently importing grain to ease the food shortages but large sections of the population, especially in Matabeleland South and parts of Masvingo, are facing severe food shortages.
Farmers told the Zimbabwe Independent that the failure by GMB to pay them had hampered preparations for the summer cropping season as they failed to acquire inputs on time.
Most farmers did not receive any payment from GMB for the 2013/14 as well as the 2014/15 seasons while others only received 23% of what they were owed for the 2013/14 season.
Zimbabwe Commercial Famers’ Union president Wonder Chabikwa said farmers were faced with serious challenges in the preparation of the 2015/16 summer cropping season.
Chabikwa said: “We are not happy at all. Farmers received a small percentage of the 2013/2014 summer marketing season. It’s abnormal being paid only for that season, what about the 2014/2015 season? Where are we expected to get money to buy inputs for the 2015/2016 season?
“Production costs for local farmers in this country is the highest in the region. A farmer spends between US$900 and US$1 000 per hectare and the US$390 per tonne that GMB pays us taken away with the cost of production.”
He said because GMB was failing to pay farmers, some farmers had resorted to selling their grains to middlemen who buy for paltry amounts ranging from US$150 to US$220 per tonne.
“I can say there is no preparation (for 2015/16 season) taking place at the moment. Farmers are in a difficult situation. There is no money; the price of fertiliser is still very high despite government promising a 20% slash.
We need government support through the provision of affordable loans for farmers,” he said.
A disgruntled farmer from Chiweshe, who asked not to be named, said the government was sabotaging farmers by failing to ensure they are paid for the grain they delivered to GMB.
The farmer said he delivered 37 tonnes of grain to GMB at a cost of US$390 per tonne for the 2013/2014 summer crop and expected to be paid about US$14 430.
This year he delivered 30 tonnes from the 2014/2015 summer cropping season and was expecting to be paid US$11 700, making it a total of US$26 130 for the two seasons.
He, however, received 23% of the 37 tonnes he delivered to GMB, which amounts to US$3 319.
“I was called last week to collect the money from GMB Concession, only to receive US$3 319. Already I have used a significant amount of it to pay school fees for my children and I am left with nothing to pay my workers, buy fertiliser, maize seed and land preparations,” he said.
“The government has let us down.”
Presenting oral evidence before a parliamentary committee on peace and security early this year, GMB acting general manager, Lawrence Jasi said the parastatal owed farmers US$49 million for grain delivered during 2013/14 marketing season.
The government last month released US$15 million to GMB to enable it to pay farmers, but the funds were not enough hence the decision to pay less than a quarter of what the parastatal owes farmers.
The farmers predicament has been exacerbated by the fact that they are failing to acquire loans from banks to fund farming activities as financial institutions do not accept their A1 permits and 99-year leases as collateral.