Agric sector under siege
ZIMBABWE’s biggest seed producer, SeedCo, last week hiked the commodity’s price by more than 100 percent, leaving most farmers stranded.
The increases saw a 25kg bag of white maize seed (long season variety) retail price rise from around $80 to $365 while a 2kg bag of the same variety is now going for $29.
The latest price schedule, which comes on the eve of agricultural summer cropping, took effect on Wednesday.
SeedCo public relations manager, Ms Marjorie Mutemererwa, could neither confirm nor deny the development. She requested a soft copy of the latest price schedule for verification, to which she had not responded to by the time of going to print.
“I have received the document but I am busy with meetings, I will check with the right offices and get back to you,” Ms Mutemererwa said.
According to the new prices, 25kg of medium season varieties now range between $259 and $290 while short season varieties are going for $250.
Sugar beans and soyabeans are now going for $94 and $59 per 25kg respectively with sorghum going for $58.
The price increases have been roundly rebuked by farmers who are questioning the justification behind the price increases.
Farmers argue that SeedCo produces its seed locally at its various farms across the country and some of it under contract and, therefore, requires minimal foreign currency.
Others argue that the company’s current stock was produced well before the parallel exchange market went into overdrive a couple of weeks ago and does not warrant a price hike.
“It is just madness,” said a local retailer. “This is an act of unconcealed sabotage, you people say we the retailers are the saboteurs but when the producer behaves in this manner, do we have a choice?
“They should explain such an astronomical hike because it also affects us as retailers. How do you tell your customers that you are not responsible for such a price? They are doing it in the dark so that when things backfire, the retailers are left with the blame.”
Zimbabwe Farmers Union executive director, Mr Paul Zakariya, called for sanity in the sector, saying the current situation can only lead to full-blown disaster.
“Sanity has to prevail, this situation must be arrested before real disaster strikes,” he said.
“Agriculture has been suffering for a long time. Now at a time when we thought some stability was beginning to set in, immoral economic behaviour spoils everything on the eve of a whole summer agricultural season.
“We call on Government to fix the fundamentals that will speak to restoration of order and stability in the economy.
“It’s also time for Government, private sector and consumers to sit down and agree on a proper way forward.
“The soaring inputs prices will push many farmers out of production. At this rate, many will downsize and try to just survive. This is not good for the country.”
It is the smallholder farmers who are expected to be hit the hardest. And this could lead to food insecurity as well as further shrinking of the agricultural sector. Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union (ZCFU) president, Mr Wonder Chabikwa, warned that the cost of production in agriculture could rise by at least 30 percent.
“They (suppliers) will not admit it but the fact is that the prices have gone up. You go to the supplier and they tell you they don’t have the product but then you find it in a certain shop going for a very high price,” he said.
“As such, we see a rise in the cost of production by between 30 and 40 percent and this could be bad news for farmers.
“This will impact the sector very negatively. ln terms of planning, most farmers had already completed their budgeting.”
Farmers are calling on Government to step in to quash the price madness.
“We understand that Government does not want to interfere, it probably is striving for liberal markets but key and sensitive sectors such as agriculture need protection,” said Mtokozisi Mangena, a food monitor with a local non-governmental organisation.
“For an economy that is agro-based, it doesn’t make sense for prices of inputs to be so high. We have a message for the unemployed youths — that they should take up agriculture as a business but the moment they enter the sector, they are pushed out by the costs. Government should make the conditions in the sector right and attractive.”
Zimbabwe is currently going through economic hardships characterised by astronomical forex rates on the black market, inflation, speculation and panic buying.
Farmers are risk at risk of incurring huge losses and some are now downsizing.
Aleck Chinyai and Lodie Steyl of Arda Antelope inspect their maize crop. Prospects of a bumper harvest this coming season are gloomy if prices of agricultural inputs are not stabilised.