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GMB maize stocks fall as hunger takes its toll



MAIZE stocks have declined in the nation’s reserves at Grain Marketing Board (GMB) depots dotted across the country, and this may worsen food insecurity situation at a time when inflation and currency volatility have decimated incomes.


The development is bad news for most Zimbabweans who are struggling to put food on the table.

The El Niñoinduced drought currently ravaging southern Africa is seen worsening hunger, with crop failure being reported in many parts of the country.

In his US$58.2 trillion 2024 National Budget presentation to Parliament in November 2023, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube predicted that El Niño would have a devastating effect on the economy.

“The domestic economy is now projected to grow by 5.5% in 2023, a slight upward revision from the August projection of 5.3%, on account of better-than-expected output in agriculture, in particular, tobacco, wheat and cotton. 

“However, economic growth is expected to slow down to 3.5% in 2024, mainly owing to the anticipated impact of the El Niño phenomenon being forecasted for the 2023/24 summer cropping season on agricultural output, as well as declining mineral commodity prices attributable to the global economic slowdown,” Ncube said.

An emergency tour of the GMB silos across the country by the parliamentary portfolio committee on Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development showed that the available grain stocks will not take the country to the next harvest.

The GMB depot in Norton, which boasts of an annual intake of 30 000 metric tonnes in a good season, only has 1347.15 metric tonnes of white maize in stock.

The supply chain manager at Norton depot, Musekiwa Zanza, who was quizzed by members of the parliamentary portfolio committee, said the low numbers may not take the country to the next harvest,  given the El Niño effect.

“Looking at the weather right now, it becomes very tricky, but what we are holding on to was able to take us through until the next harvest, but then the next harvest appears to be running away from us because the skies are dry. If the situation remains as it is, we can’t say we may be able to feed the nation,” said Zanza.

The Chegutu depot general manager, Davy Nyachowe, affirmed Zanza’s assertions, saying the white maize stocks at the depot are insufficient to take the local catchment area to the next season.

“I do not have the stats for all the depots, but for Chegutu you can all agree that 200 metric tonnes is insufficient,” he added.

Nyachowe cited lack of financial support to white maize farmers as a key cause of low volumes of white maize at the GMB depots.

“There is little support towards white maize farmers as compared to other grain farmers such as wheat. In our reserves we have more wheat stock than white maize because firstly there are not as many wheat farmers as there are maize farmers. I do not know how the Pfumvudza programme should be refined, but we could select a few big farmers and they should be given all the support; as more wheat farmers get [support] we will have more maize grain in our reserves,” he told the committee.

He added that when farmers tried to seek financial help from banks, they were short-changed. He said the number of farmers getting help from banks has gradually dwindled.

“There is a bank that has been supporting maize farmers for the Command Agriculture programme, but many farmers have opted out of the financing programme because of the high interest rates. So farmers ended up working to return the loan and that was not viable. They initially had a lot of farmers under their loan programme, but now the number has dwindled because farmers are opting for self-financing,” said Nyachowe.

Payment is also a concern.

“We have farmers who have land dotted all over the catchment area of Norton and they are ready to do agriculture, they are ready to do farming, but their only disadvantage is the last hurdle. They would have grown their crops, but when they deliver to the national grain reserve, which is GMB, they are complaining of their remuneration not being paid on time,” said Zanza.

“I think that is the only thing we need to address and you won’t have to come to verify stocks. You would only be hearing reports of spilling silos because we have honest farmers in Zimbabwe and they are good at that, but it is very disheartening that they cultivate and harvest and sell to GMB, but spend three to four months without receiving their money.
“The farmers speak of labour that needs to be paid, so failure to pay them they lose labour. What we are seeing here can be resolved by paying the farmers on time.”

As a recommendation, Zanza said the committee should push for the review of the liberalisation policy, which could have adversely affected stock levels at the GMB.

“I think we need to revisit the policy. We are not against it (liberalisation) but maybe we should at least reach a certain threshold that would carry us to the next harvest season then we can open the door for contractors and private players, but they should first deliver to GMB,” he said.

In January 2024, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a contribution of US$11.27 million to the World Food Programme (WFP) in Zimbabwe, ensuring that approximately 230 000 of the most vulnerable people in Mwenezi, Mangwe, Chivi, and Buhera districts will receive critical food assistance during the January to March 2024 lean season.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) says the nation’s  annual inflation surged to 47.6% in February 2024 from 34.8% in January.

Consumer prices rose 5.4% in the month from 6.6% in January.

The taxes introduced by Finance minister Mthuli Ncube have pushed up the prices of basic foodstuffs.

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