Maize shortage renews GM debate in Zim

A major shortage of maize has sent the price of maize meal, used for porridge and poultry feed, spiralling in Zimbabwe, prompting traders to lobby the government to consider importing genetically modified (GM) maize.


Zimbabwe, along with Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia, has long resisted importing GM maize. Most of the maize grown in neighbouring South Africa — which is the largest maize producer in the region, and which usually has a surplus to export — is GM.

Though South Africa can provide certified GM-free maize, it is more expensive than the maize produced in Malawi or Zambia, all of which is GM-free.

A dry spell and lack of fertilizers in 2012 led to a poor harvest in Zimbabwe, and aid agencies expect the number of food insecure people to rise to almost
1,67 million by March. Zimbabwean traders usually import from Zambia to meet demand during shortages, but Zambia has imposed restrictions on maize exports.

The grain milling industry in Zimbabwe, which includes maize-meal and livestock-feed manufacturers, says their current stocks will not last until the new harvest season in May-June. The country’s Agricultural Marketing Association has warned the government of an impending crisis.

“There is a major shortage of maize on the market. For the past few years now, the industry has depended on local maize supplies and imports from Zambia . . . As we speak, there has been no maize coming from Zambia officially.”

The grain milling industry says it requires about 150 000 metric tons of maize between now and until the new harvest to meet consumers’ needs. Market sources say the Grain Marketing Board has only 92 000 metric tons of maize in its reserves, and it has stopped maize sales to save for a grain-loan scheme.

The price of maize was around $260 a ton in 2012, but has escalated to $380 per ton, said Fungai Mungate, chairman of the Stock Feed Manufacturers Association in Zimbabwe. “There is a major shortage of maize on the market.

For the past few years now, the industry has depended on local maize supplies and imports from Zambia. But due to problems in Zambia, between November and December 2012, that country imposed some kind of restriction or an unofficial ban on maize exports to Zimbabwe. As we speak, there has been no maize coming from Zambia officially.”

Zambia is facing its own maize shortages despite consecutive bumper harvests in the past three seasons. Researchers Auckland Kuteya and TS Jayne of Zambia’s Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute attribute the country’s maize meal shortages to the government’s own marketing and subsidy policies.

For the last two years, the Zambian government’s Food Reserve Agency has been buying huge quantities of maize at high prices from farmers, then selling the maize to millers at deeply subsidised rates.

Meanwhile, the FRA’s storage losses have been extremely high, with an estimated 25% of its maize purchases spoiled or of poor quality.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation says the government’s efforts were meant to counteract a potential price hike, expecting the huge surplus would attract foreign traders. The government also felt the need to maintain stable supplies.

But the removal of huge quantities of maize from the market (the FRA bought 1,75 million tons in the 2011-2012 marketing year; and then one million tons for the 2012-2013 marketing year) created shortages. Both traders and millers have hiked their prices, despite the government’s threats to cancel millers’ licences.

And very little of the government subsidy given to millers has been passed on to consumers. As a result, the government has spent 2% of its GDP subsidising maize despite experiencing the shortages and high prices.

Zimbabwe allows a maximum of 0,01% trace of GM material in its maize imports. Both the Grain Millers Association and SMA have appealed to the government to temporarily revise this threshold to 2%.

SMA’s Mungate said recent surveys by his organisation of maize availability in South Africa at the 0,01% GM threshold found only 14 000 metric tons available at prices between $400 and $450 per metric ton.

The government has yet to respond to the request.

During a particularly severe drought in 2002, Zimbabwe said they would allow imports of GM food aid only in milled form, as this eliminated the risk of grain germination and limited possible contamination of local varieties.

Ordinary Zimbabweans are struggling to access cheap grain. In Chitungwiza, an urban centre outside the capital, Harare, Gogo Keresencia Dziruni’s six-member household relies on her disabled husband’s $100-a-month pension.

“I remember that not so long ago, we used to buy a 10kg bag of roller meal [unrefined maize meal] for $4,50 and now you cannot get it for below $6. As a basic necessity, maize meal should not be allowed to move that much because it is staple food for many people,” she said.

Dziruni says she would support the importation of GM maize if that would bring the price of maize meal down.

Another resident, Masiiwa Ganyau, remarked that salaries have remained unchanged in the face of these price increases.

The price hikes have also affected poultry farming in Zimbabwe. Mungate said the poultry industry has become a major source of livelihood for the poor and for communal farmers.

But sixty percent of the feed for poultry is derived from maize, and the increasing maize cost has caused feed prices to climb between 2% and 5%. The livestock feed industry said it needs 40 000 tons of maize between February and the next harvest to meet demand.

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  1. It’s shameful that we are not able to feed ourselves.
    With the amount of rainfall that we receive yearly and the reservoirs that are dotted around the country and underground water resources, droughts should not be the reason for our food insecurity.

    The seed industry (Seedco, Pioneer, Agriseeds, Progeny etc.) has done a lot in trying to supply affordable seed, especially maize seed, on the markets. In Sub-Saharan Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya are leading the pack with well organized and thriving seed sectors with organizations being run by competent professionals. In fact, we have adequate non-GMO technologies.

    Surely, we should not even think of these GMOs; their safety is uncertain. If we really need these GMOs let us put money into research in biotechnology and invent our local products – we have professionals who can do this. If biotech professionals are lacking we can form partnerships with foreign companies that can lead the development of our own GMOs.

    What I feel is urgent is the development of irrigation facilities around the country so that we do not depend on unpredictable rainfall events. Concomitantly, the agrochemical industry should be supported. In addition, we need well trained agricultural extension staff; apart from having a diploma and degree certificate they need on-the-job training to enhance their capacities for delivery. One other thing that we need is a competent agriculture minister. LET US MAKE EFFORTS TO PRODUCE ABUNDANT AND HEALTHY FOOD.

  2. when last did we produce enough for ourselves? i dont think we’ve done so for the past 12 years. Does that mean that God hates us that much that we have always had successive droughts for these past years. progressive zimbabweand let us not hide a finger with this drought talk. the agric sector is dead, period! i pray that as a people we see reason & we stop this madness that has engulfed is and we become productive. fine land was redistributed, so far what have we done with it, agriculture ain’t rocket science! & also jus the thought of the word GMO makes me shiver…GM maize should never be an option, but for now hameno!

  3. I dont understand correct me when am wrong when you say they is a shortage of seed and fertillizer is it a case of affordability or shortage for really?cause every year y see shops fully stocked of these products or ar our farmers become cry babies everytime that they want everything for free?whts next subsidised rainfal if it possible?

  4. I do not think we need GM seeds to feed ourselves. We just need to make farming productive again. We must set prices for farm produce at levels where farmers are able to make a living off the land. Right now one hears of farmers that have just given up growing maize or moved to growing the cash crops like tobacco.

  5. Sanctions from Zambia!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Ha a a uku ndiko kutsva dumbu zvese nemusana guys.musanyepera Mvura varume cz yakanaya wani.It was enough for us to do irrigation prog but others are busy looting gvt resources whilst others are busytrying t get into office @ e expense of the pple.

  6. No pills for idiots

    Africa is the only continent in the world where people are dying of hunger yet they the only continent that object to GMO maize. US grow over 300 Million tons, Argentina 25+ million, Brazil 50+ million and South Africa 10+ million (Only African country to accept GMO). They all have the fear that people will die from GMO maize, well people will die if you don’t feed them, so rather extend their lifespan. I just heard that now some idiot with authority has decided to test each truck of maize entering the country at a cost of ±$200 per test, this is a money making exercise and pushing up the price of food in a country where people are already struggling with the current cost of food. Wake up people the poor are getting poorer and dying of hunger due to idiots with authority trying to be clever.

  7. We all (Nations in Africa) suffer the inability to feed our people and this bound to get worse. Yield enhancing inputs such as fertilizers are never used in adequate amounts even when heavily subsidized.

    Supply is erratic, arrive late and issued in a discriminatory manner with large scale rich farmers being favoured.

    Reliance of rain-fed agriculture will not move us anywhere; we will remain at the mercy of the vagaries of the weather.

    GM food will not work be the panacea to our hunger. The technology will require other inputs techs such as fertilizers and steady water supply. Out storage facilities remain rudimentary. We have a long way to go.

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