HARARE – Agriculture has always been the mainstay of Zimbabwe’s economy, with crops like tobacco, cotton and maize proving to be major foreign currency earners as well as citizens’ livelihoods.
However, over the years, tobacco and cotton farmers have been crying foul as a result of the behaviour of buyers during the respective crops’ selling seasons.
Places like Gokwe and Muzarabani used to be the major cotton farming areas but the fall in the price of the crop in recent years has left many farmers reeling with debt after getting very little from the sold crop.
Most farmers would have received inputs from cotton companies at exorbitant prices.
On the other hand, tobacco farmers face the same fate at auction floors where their crop would be condemned only for the same batch to be taken by middlemen for a song. They would then repack it and take it back into the auction floors where it would fetch a good price.
Meanwhile, the farmer may have been contracted to some company which will not stop asking for its dues even if the crop does not get a fair price.
Back at the farm, employees expect to get paid from the same crop.
If these corrupt practices are allowed to continue, farmers may as well start side-marketing their crop.
With reports that internal corruption in most Grain Marketing Board (GMB) depots across the country led to farmers having their deliveries condemned for high moisture content only for the parastatal’s employees to buy it at low prices and redeliver the same maize to the State-owned firm, this time getting a good price.
What this effectively means is that the farmer would have lost out to the corrupt GMB officials.
Government must think about the farmer who toils throughout the whole season expecting to get a fair price at the end of the season but has to suffer at the hands of corrupt employees.
Since GMB is State-owned, government must get rid of all the loopholes the internal systems may manifest.
For most, farming is their full-time job whose earnings they expect to use in the sustenance of their families, payment of school fees while ensuring they timely acquire inputs for the next season.
Once the farmer falls prey to these marauding conmen, the farmers’ lives are condemned to destitution as creditors follow them up for money owed and yet they would not have earned anything from the previous season’s efforts.
With tobacco auction floors, most farmers have to hire transporters to take their crop to the floors. After the crop is condemned, they find it hard to take the crop to the farm for further processing as demanded and, with transporters on their backs for their payment, they give it away at very low prices.
The current setup is taking advantage of the farmers. On the one hand, they do not control the grading system and on the other, they dread incurring further costs taking the crop back to the farm.
It is high time government probes these corrupt practices that seem to be threatening the smooth running of agricultural activity in the country.
In the event such probes show the existence of criminal activity, the culprits — who prey on desperate farmers — must face the music.
Already, despite the heavy rains the country received in the past farming season, the benefits may not trickle down to the farmers’ pockets owing to these conmen.
Since Zimbabwe’s economy is agro-based, there is need for government to start putting stringent control measures to ensure the continued survival — not only of the families involved in farming but also of the industry as a whole.