BY FIDELITY MHLANGA
AGRICULTURAL industry players have backed the rollout of new regulations placing huge fines and jail terms on backstage market dealers benefiting from the side marketing of soya beans and seed cotton.
They said the new regimes, which came into force last week gave contractors guarantees that their investments would be safe in Zimbabwe while fresh funding would be unlocked as the playing field levels out.
The new policies came through Statutory Instrument (SI) 96 of 2021 — the Grain Marketing (Control of Sale of Cotton) Regulations 2021 and the SI97 of 2021 — Grain Marketing (Control of Sale of Soya Beans) Regulations, which criminalised side marketing of the two crops.
Offenders will be slapped with fines three times the value of diverted grain, or two years behind bars.
In a series of measures meant to protect the domestic market, Agriculture Minister Anxious Masuka banned the exportation of the two commodities except by the GMB.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union (ZCFU) president Shadreck Makombe told businessdigest that the policies would be vital in driving confidence back to contracting firms.
“You would find some contractors would manipulate farmers and farmers would also short-change contractors,” the ZCFU boss said.
“When contractors pump out their money they expect rewards. It is a business. They should generate income from their investments. Side marketing has been very bad. The SI is quite good because people would know that when we talk about farming we mean business. So if we divert (crops) the law will take its course. If you divert the crop we will end up not getting money from contractors. Other investors will shy away because they will be afraid,” he said.
Makombe’s views received the support of counterparts at the Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU), which said the SIs would end rampant abuse of the crop contracting system by middlemen.
“This action ensures that farmers receive fair value for their produce by eliminating middlemen from the marketing process,” said Paul Zakariya, executive director at the ZFU.
“For cotton, it is very clear that contracted cotton cannot be purchased by any person or institution that did not finance production. There were instances where local businessmen and other people were exchanging seed cotton for cooking oil or any such items. They would then sell the seed cotton to cotton companies for higher value, prejudicing the farmer in the process. The SI, if applied as is, will effectively help to deal with side marketing,” Zakariya said.
Zimbabwe requires over 240 000 tonnes of soya beans per annum. But growers have been failing to meet this demand.
Soya bean grain is used as an affordable source of protein for livestock feeds.
According to the Association of Cotton Value Adders of Zimbabwe, before many fabric spinning companies closed, local consumption of lint stood at around 35% of the total seed cotton’s annual output.
It has since plunged to the current levels of about 15%.
Cotton production in Zimbabwe declined to an all-time low of 32 000 tonnes in 2016, from 84 000 tonnes in 2015 before increasing to 143 000 tonnes in 2014.
Total output was 76 691 000 kg in 2019.