Farmers in a fix over attached property

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Farmers who have their property and livestock attached after failing to pay back loans and inputs extended to them by companies, said their farming activities had been negatively affected and likely to lead to low yields.

Most farmers signed contracts with several cotton companies which extended to them agricultural inputs and were supposed to sell their agricultural produce to the companies.

Most of the farmers did not obtain high yields, prompting them to fail to settle the debts.

They defaulted and their properties ranging from scotchcarts, ploughs, hoes and livestock were confiscated by companies.

The farmers practice subsistence farming and rely heavily on their property for their farming activities.
“My cattle were taken. I used them for cultivation, but now I have to hire draught power from other people.

When everyone is busy tilling his land, I have to wait for my turn and this is impacting negatively on my farming activities,” said Arnold Nyaumwe of Mudzimu village.

Another villager Doubt Nyamufarira said a paprika company he was contracted to, took every farming equipment from him. This year he is expecting only a quarter of what used to be his yields.

“They took my tractor and now I have to wait for a plough from my father and he is busy with it all the time. I am afraid the farming season will pass without me tilling my fields,” said Nyamufarira.

Farmers who spoke to NewsDay said they were made to sign “dubious” contracts without knowing full terms of agreement.

“They took advantage of our ignorance and made us sign the contracts. We never really grasped the terms of the contracts and some of the clauses were not explained to us,” said one farmer.

Others accused companies of not paying the stipulated prices of crops.

“The cotton company that I was contracted to was paying very low prices compared to other companies and their weighing system was suspicious,” said another cotton farmer Abel Nyamupinga.

However, a company official from one of the cotton companies extending loans to farmers, said once farmers harvested their crops, they no longer wanted to deliver them to the companies as per contracts, but rather took them elsewhere.

“They breach their contracts. We explain to them that terms of the agreement state they should deliver their crop to us and we deduct the amount of the loans that we have given them, but most of the farmers default and we attach property,” said the official.

He explained attaching of the property would likely hamper the farmers’ activities, but they were left with no option.

“Yes, companies know that these are subsistence farmers. They rely heavily on their property as a means of production, but we are in business, we have to survive too. The contracted farmers should fulfill their end of the bargain,” added the official.

Farmers have been urged to be wary of companies that claim to extend an olive branch because in most cases they want to fleece them.

Urban Council and Rural Development minister Ignatius Chombo said farmers should not sign contracts that they do not fully comprehend.

“Farmers should not get into contracts that they do not fully understand. Some of the clauses are hidden and most farmers later say they did not know. Recently, we had to stop another company that wanted to attach properties of farmers,” said Chombo.

Farmers in Masvingo and Manicaland also found themselves in the same predicament last year after the Cotton Company (Cottco) of Zimbabwe attached their properties and livestock following their failure to honour contracts they entered into under an input-support scheme.

Cottco managing director David Machingaidze said at the time the company was following up on defaulting farmers.

Cottco supplied farmers with inputs, such as seed, fertiliser and chemicals during the 2009/10 cropping season.

The farmers were in turn expected to sell their produce to Cottco, in line with the requirements of contracts they signed.

“It is normal company procedure to follow up on any unpaid inputs at the end of the season. We, however, encourage farmers to honour their contracts with cotton merchants. Where there are genuine cases of poor harvests or hardships, we will look at those case by case.

“We are asking farmers who did not deliver the crop to us — in some cases — to pay us for the inputs, in cash while in some instances, they can pay us in any other produce like maize, or livestock,” said Machingaidze.

Poor rains experienced in some parts of the country led to poor cotton harvests, particularly in areas like Mwenezi.

This saw some farmers like Philimon Muchayi of Tavengwa village under Chief Murove in Mwenezi, failing to deliver enough cotton to Cottco despite receiving inputs from the company.

This farmer now owes Cottco over $100 and has already had a plough, a goat and knapsacks attached by the company.