Farmers sceptical about new exchange market

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Kindness Paradza has a mission. After he lost his job as a journalist when the Zanu PF government closed his newspaper in 2004, he ploughed his life savings into a 2 000ha farm he received as part of Zimbabwe’s controversial land reform programme.

Since then he has been patiently rotating land use between crops such as tobacco, wheat and maize. He now hopes to build a business enterprise with profits from his farm.

The launch of the new commodity exchange could have come as a boon for him, as he now has more room to negotiate better prices.

Previously this space for negotiation did not exist as the state-owned Grain Marketing Board (GMB) was the sole buyer of grain.
However, Paradza, like many new farmers, is not celebrating the arrival of the Commodity Exchange of Zimbabwe (Comez).

Although it has been promoted as a mechanism to minimise exploitation of farmers by agricultural buyers and usher in orderly trading of commodities while creating opportunities for farmers to get better prices, Paradza remains sceptical. “We don’t know it. How does something that you don’t know help you?” Paradza asks rhetorically.

Comez is a commodities market; commodities markets across the world trade in agricultural products such as wheat, barley, sugar, maize and cotton, on a contractual basis.

These contracts can include futures. A simplified example would be: a maize farmer can sell a futures contract on her maize, which will not be harvested for several months and guarantee the price to be paid at the time of delivery.

The futures contract is bought with a guarantee that the price will not go up when it is delivered. This protects the farmer from price drops and the buyer from price rises. Comez will initially trade grains, cereals and oil seeds.

According to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Comez is meant to “provide fair and open prices” for agricultural produce as reflected on the market.

At the launch of Comez two months ago, the of Industry and Commerce minister Welshman Ncube said it would serve as a mechanism to break the state monopoly on grain trade.

“We should create a transparent, open and accessible commodities market where both buyers and sellers can participate, knowing the prevailing prices,” Ncube said.

In the last 10 years, the Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) determined the prices of agricultural produce, while GMB was designated as the sole buyer of grain. AMA is the regulator of grain pricing in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe Grain Millers’ Association president Tafadzwa Musarara welcomes Comez but says it should be organised in line with international standards for it to work properly.

“It is welcome in the sense that the contracts that farmers will enter into with grain traders and other buyers will give them bankable papers which they can use to capitalise their operations, rather than working on a cash basis as is the case right now,” Musarara said.

“Nevertheless, it is important that we come up with structures that are in line with international practice in order to attract foreign buyers.”

Most farmers still do not understand what exactly Comez does and why it was established. They would prefer to see how it practically works before committing any of their produce.

Alice Machingauta, a Chihota farmer, said while delivering her tobacco crop: “I haven’t heard about it but if there are merchants involved then I don’t want it because the merchants are only there to reap what they did not sow.”

Grain trader and economist Tinashe Mawarire said Comez suffers from the fear of the unknown.

“Farmers are used to delivering their produce to GMB and waiting for the announcement of the price.

The advantage with Comez is its willing-buyer-willing-seller arrangement, unlike in the past when everyone was compelled to sell to GMB only,” Mawarire said.

Analyst Brains Muchemwa cautions that “farmers need to be educated on how Comez works and how they can get better prices”.