Agric sec­tor un­der siege

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - SOCIETY - Har­mony Agere

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.

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