Providing incentives for farmers to produce achieves multiple purposes — self-sufficiency, reduction in the import bill, creation of more employment opportunities, and for the more enterprising, value addition.
Last week, the Government announced that farmers will receive a 30 percent bonus for delivering maize and traditional grains to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) before the end of July 2020.
Farmers who have already delivered grain since April 2020 will benefit from the measure, which puts the price of maize and traditional grains at more than $16 000 a tonne.
In welcoming the announcement, farmers’ organisations have said the move will boost viability of growing maize and traditional grains — one of the arguments raised by growers when they migrated to other cash crops such as tobacco.
Farmers delivering maize to the GMB will receive $16 025 a tonne, while those delivering traditional grains will be paid $16 725 within three days of delivery. Prior to last week’s announcement, maize delivered to the GMB was fetching $12 327 a tonne, while a tonne of traditional grains was attracting $12 865.
The emphasis on traditional crops is significant because of the demonstrated health benefits. GMB’s network of depots around the country means farmers do not have to travel far to deliver their grain and the production of these grains can become competitive against other crops that involve more in transport costs.
The Government is encouraged to continue with these incentives, because they will fuel increased production of all crops in a way that renders redundant the necessity of food imports.
Zimbabwe’s economy is driven by the agricultural sector. It is therefore critical to ensure the sector is ring-fenced because of the extensive impacts on the whole value chain process.
Supporting agriculture through constantly reviewing upwards the producer prices is one sure way of safeguarding food self-sufficiency. Food imports, while necessary at times are costly.
There are delays in shipment of grain and overland transportation, as we have seen with shipments of maize coming through Beira and Maputo. There are also concerns over risks of being manipulated in a way that dependency on imports can present health and security risks to the country.
When farmers believe their role in food production is appreciated and valued, they will produce surpluses, which can be exported, earning the country much-needed hard currency.
In the process of stepped up production, the farmers and the whole value chain will create more employment opportunities for locals.
Zimbabwe can ensure its food security status by continuously reviewing the producer prices, mindful of global prices, because in the absence of incentives for local producers that is the price the country will have to pay on international markets.
The country is spending hundreds of millions of dollars in scare foreign currency importing maize, soya and soya meal/cake and wheat. Yet if properly incentivised farmers could turn the shortfalls in supply of the three agricultural products into opportunities.
Maize, wheat and soya are among the most important strategic food security crops where Zimbabwe has failed to meet the annual demand from locally produced crops.
While there are adverse environmental factors such as climate change and droughts that Zimbabwe has to contend with, it can, however, take advantage of the inland water bodies and the major rivers to ensure stepped up production of grain crops.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) warns the continent of dependency on food imports, arguing that given its vast resources, Africa should be feeding itself and promoting value addition in the crops it is currently exporting — cocoa, coffee, tea and tobacco, for example.
It makes the argument that while the price of cocoa is subject to fluctuation, the prices of chocolate and coffee have never gone down. The point is that if Africa focused on both production and value addition, it would increase the value of its exports and earn considerably more.
This kind of thinking is critical because it will value add its crops, derive more from its agriculture, while helping the leadership on the continent deliver on most of its campaign promises. It will also mean the continent is no longer given to exporting jobs outside Africa.
The expectation for Zimbabwe is that the producer price review will also see a pre-planting announcement which will guide farmers as they prepare their cropping plans during the next two months.
There is absolutely no reason for Zimbabwe to be importing maize, wheat and soya beans and related products when the country has the land, climatic conditions, the skills and workforce.