Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Hunger Stalks Matabeleland

Hunger Stalks Matabeleland

Ray Ndlovu 15 Oct 2015
Patrick-Chinamasa

Finance Minister, Patrick Chinamasa

THANDO Nkiwane, a farmer from Gwanda’s Manama, Matabeleland South province, rues the day he decided to take his grain to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB).
More than six months after delivering four tonnes of maize, hope of ever receiving over US$2 000 owed to him by the State grain buyer is fast waning as another planting season beckons.
“The failure by the Grain Marketing Board to pay on time is a very touchy issue among farmers here,” Nkiwane noted.
Hard-pressed by fiscal pressures afflicting Treasury, the GMB has found it increasingly difficult to pay farmers on time.
Nearly US$30 million in payments to farmers is still outstanding, with US$18,5 million having been paid between January and June this year.
In his mid-term fiscal policy review in July, Finance Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, indicated that Treasury was trying to settle its obligations to the farmers.
“Treasury will prioritise payments to farmers for both outstanding and new deliveries as a way of enhancing confidence in delivering to the GMB, in addition to capacitating farmers for the next season. Payment of the outstanding US$29,2 million will be undertaken and settled soon,” he said.
Last season, farmers delivered 255 519 tonnes of maize to GMB depots across the country.
Abdul Nyathi, the Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) president, told the Financial Gazette recently that in addition to the delays by GMB, banks were frustrating efforts by farmers to secure financing.
“The banks demand huge collateral and insist that immovable properties must either be in Harare or Bulawayo if one is to secure any financing. Anything outside of these urban centres is not considered. Effectively, what this means is that communal A1 and A2 farmers stand no chance of getting any form of assistance. The high interest rates are also a major deterrent and only the well to do people can be assisted by the banks,” said Nyathi.
Owing to the poor rainfall, the two provinces of Matabeleland South and Matabeleland North have experienced crop failures, exacerbating the provinces’ perennial hunger situation.
Esther Mwanza, a provincial manager at ZFU, explained that last season’s harvest was very poor, with famers who planted small grains such as millet and sorghum being the only ones to get some returns.
“Most of the crop was a write-off by about January and February this year, with the Tsholotsho and Nkayi districts being the worst affected areas. As for maize, it was just a total write-off and the situation is very bad in the provinces, with an urgent need for government intervention,” she said.
Gwanda, which is part of the country’s natural region five, is characterised by erratic rainfalls and sporadic drought spells. The parched ground and depleted grazing lands makes it a risky adventure to plant crops such as maize, a staple food that Nkiwane and other villagers seem unwilling to let go.
Preparations for this year’s rainy season are already in full swing and Nkiwane is still undecided whether to completely abandon maize or try it one more time.
But prospects of yet another poor rainfall season are real and he might just be persuaded to try other crops.
Last year, parts of the Matabeleland South province, which includes Beitbridge, Gwanda, Matobo and Mangwe, suffered a major rainfall deficit which resulted in all early-planted crops wilting. The late-planted crops yielded poor to modest harvests.
According to the latest Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee report, the Matabeleland province leads in terms of food shortages nationwide.
At least 28,5 percent of Matabeleland North households are “food insecure”, while Matabeleland South province is at 17,4 percent.
“Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South and Masvingo provinces have the highest proportions of households likely to be food insecure in the 2015/2016 consumption year, priority should be given to these provinces in addressing the food insecurity problem…the total requirements for all households deemed to have inadequate resources to feed themselves is equivalent to 55 130 tonnes of maize,” the report said.
Agriculture, once the mainstay of Zimbabwe’s economy, has over the years suffered a significant knock owing to poor rainfall and the 2000 land reform programme that decimated production.
Masvingo requires 131 000 tonnes of maize to avert starvation, while Manicaland requires 96 000 tonnes, Matabeleland South 61 000 tonnes and Matabeleland North 46 000 tonnes.
Nyathi said the grain distribution exercise was likely to offer temporary relief to drought stricken farmers across the country and ruled out the possibility of the grain not reaching its intended recipients due to leakages induced by corruption and political interference in the distribution process.
“The structures which are in place are very effective; there are drought relief committees down to ward and village levels. So there really cannot be any abuse of the grain distribution exercise,” he said.
But for Nkiwane, his faith is not on the efficacy or otherwise of government’s drought relief programme. He prays and hopes for better rains this year,  to bring a more lasting solution to the looming hunger crisis.
“What else can we do except to pray for the rains; we can’t keep on surviving on handouts all the time,” he said.
  newsdesk@fingaz.co.zw

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