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Stop holding farmers at gunpoint

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WHEN a government views the national security forces as a magic bullet that solves all the problems under the sun, then you must know that the rulers of the land have utterly run out of ideas.

A troubling pattern has emerged over the years. Official thinking — or lack thereof — has become eerily predictable. There is a pro-democracy protest? Deploy the army. There is a post-election demonstration? Unleash the soldiers. People are speaking out against the unbearable cost of living? Send the military to crush them. It never ends, does it?

Farmers have become the latest victims of this flagrant abuse of power.

The government says it is deploying soldiers and police to seize grain from farmers.

A fortnight ago, Agriculture ministry secretary John Bhasera dispatched a memorandum instructing Grain Marketing Board (GMB) chief executive Rockie Mutenha to operationalise provisions of Statutory Instrument 145 of 2019 ostensibly designed to curb the so-called side marketing of grain.

True to Abraham Maslow’s timeless dictum, when the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.

Zanu PF has taught us that in an authoritarian polity, the overlords tend to see the coercive state apparatus as the solution to all economic, political and social problems.

They forget that farming is a business and not charity. From that perspective, it is ridiculous to expect farmers to embrace irrational decisions that will plunge them into financial ruin.

Side marketing is a civil, not criminal, matter. Farmers who produce maize under contract obviously have a legal obligation to honour their commercial agreements. But to force an independent farmer — at gunpoint — to deliver grain to the state-run GMB in exchange for an uneconomic producer price is the height of absurdity.

The GMB’s grain-purchase monopoly is unworkable and runs counter to the free-market imperatives of a constitutional democracy.

The issue here is really about pricing.

All inputs are denominated in United States dollars in this economy; it stands to reason that the farmer ought to be paid in a manner that takes into account this fact. Foisting unviable producer prices on farmers is bound to backfire. Logically, if there is no return on investment this season, a grower has no incentive to toil once again next season.

Sustainable food security can only be achieved through sensible policies that promote fair pricing, market efficiency and open access for smallholder farmers.

The GMB monopoly has spawned corruption and the time has come for policymakers to take decisive action in the national interest.

Zimbabwe should not be scrounging for staple food from its neighbours — there is no greater indicator of leadership failure than this.

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