WHEAT farmers said that despite projections of higher production this year, they are still struggling with several issues such as high interest charges and late payments by the Grain Marketing Board (GMB).
In May, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe drastically revised its interest policy, which pushed interest rates to 200% from 120% previously.
The move was part of the central bank’s tough measures to contain inflation.
Farmers’ concerns were raised at a wheat pre-harvest conference organized by the Zimbabwe Wheat Board in Harare.
The conference came following the government’s declaration of bumper wheat production of up to 380,000 tonnes this year, enough to feed the nation.
Zimbabwe needs 350,000 to 450,000 tonnes of wheat per year. However, some estimates put this year’s production at around 336,000 tonnes.
Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) chief economist Antonette Chingwe said farmers expected an increase in wheat production.
“There are issues that need to be resolved so that we can export our wheat,” she said.
“Another challenge we have is access to finance. It is difficult for the farmers because the borrowing costs are too high.
“It results in a reliance on contract farming,” she said, as she expressed reservations about the contract farming model.
“There has been an outcry against contract farming in Zimbabwe.”
Farmers complain that the companies financing their operations take most of the cream and leave them in abject poverty.
She said banks’ collateral requirements on loans have been a limiting factor.
“Collateral issues are a limiting factor in access to finance,” she said.
“The main challenge revolves around inflation and an unstable exchange rate. Fertilizer costs are also a challenge and this needs to be addressed as they account for 40% of wheat production (costs),” Chingwe said at the conference.
“Fuel is also another challenge we face as farmers due to erratic power cuts, a recurring challenge that makes production patterns unsustainable,” she added.
Zimbabwe Farmers Union business development officer David Chiseure said wheat cultivation had been hampered by vandalism, during which agricultural infrastructure had been destroyed, affecting irrigation and wheat harvesting.
He said farmers feared the culprits would be known, but not detained.
“The culprits are known. They are arrested, but they are released,” Chisée said.
“We wish and hope that the authorities and the courts do their job. Regarding power cuts, there is no prioritization of wheat producers.
Chiseure added that it was difficult for farmers to repay loans when payments from buyers such as GMB were erratic.
“How can farmers pay back if they are not paid by the government? ” He asked.
“Farmers must be excluded from the list of defaulters as they are awaiting payments from the GMB.”
CBZ Agroyield managing director Walter Chigodora said it was important for donors and farmers to engage.
“We should sit down and engage,” Chigodora said.
“Effective communication is necessary because Zinwa’s pricing and payment plans, including Zesa’s prioritization of electricity distribution, are biased against wheat farmers,” he added.
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