ZIMBABWE could face another bleak winter wheat cropping season after it emerged that the government is still making frantic efforts to raise $80 million to grow the cereal, barely two weeks before plantation of the early crop begins.
Report by Bernard Mpofu
The development comes at a time when Treasury has also undertaken to inject $1 million for the setting up of the much-delayed Commodity Exchange, an open market for the country’s agricultural
produce, two years after the project was first mooted.
Presenting the first quarter state of the economy report on Monday, Finance minister Tendai Biti said plans were underway to source funds for the winter wheat at a time when State coffers have dried up owing to other commitments such as a pending election, grain importation and a huge public service wage bill.
“The 2013 winter wheat production programme has financial requirements amounting to $80 million. Various financing options are being considered and pursued to ensure a successful wheat programme,” Biti said, although he did not disclose when the funds would be availed.
About 40 000 hectares of land are expected to be put under wheat production this season. The government says it will contribute $30 million of the amount required to produce a 160 000 metric tonnes of wheat, but time is running out before the cut off date for planting the last variety of the crop.
Critics blame the chaotic land reform programme implemented more than a decade ago for relegating Zimbabwe, once
the bread basket of the region, into basket case.
Meanwhile, plans to breathe life into the dormant exchange were announced nearly a decade after the project was abandoned when the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) was given monopoly to buy wheat and maize. Delays in paying farmers for maize deliveries made to GMB has in turn fuelled side marketing, prompting the government to re-establish an open market.
Experts say since the commencement of grain marketing season early this month, the cash-strapped government has no capacity to buy the cereal.
“Clearly, given the parlous state of finances, an attempt to use the GMB as the buyer of last resort will create problems for farmers,” Biti said.
“Treasury anticipated this in 2012 when it pushed for the establishment of the Commodity Exchange to allow farmers to sell their crop at a competitive price and receive payment immediately. In this regard, Treasury will avail $1 million to the concerned ministries for the setting up and operationalisation of the Commodity Exchange as a matter of urgency.”
Turning to food security, official figures show that the country has to date imported 432 400 tonnes of maize to meet the cereal gap of 436 211 tonnes. A total of 1,4 million people, according to Biti, are currently receiving assistance through the government and humanitarian agencies.
“Currently, the government is negotiating with the Zambian government for the importation of 150 000 tonnes of maize valued at $60-$70 million, as part of the Grain Importation Programme,” Biti said.
“The grain importation programme will be funded by both government and private sector players, in view of the limited capacity of the fiscus.”