Harare — Veteran small-scale farmer Trynos Mamombe has returned to maize farming after two years, thanks to a multi-partner initiative which is helping him to market his crop and get paid for it promptly.
Mamombe, 60, has been growing maize for 30 years in the Karoi District of Mashonaland West Province, about 200km northwest of Harare. In the 2008-9 farming season he produced 10 tons of it from his 15 hectare smallholding and opted to sell to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB). However, the high transport costs involved in delivering his grain to the closest GMB depot, and then the GMB's failure to pay him on time, put Mamombe and his family in a difficult situation.
"I hardly planted anything in 2009," said Mamombe, who resorted to growing tobacco for the past two seasons but with limited success due to his lack of knowledge about the crop and difficulty finding curing facilities.
The GMB had a long-standing monopoly on cereal purchases until March 2009 when private traders were allowed into the market to encourage competition and boost production. The move to liberalize the grain market was also a response to GMB's inability to make adequate and timely payments to farmers.
However, other farmers in Mamombe's area who sold to private buyers complained that their maize was still not fetching enough money to cover their costs, let alone make a profit. "Most farmers from our area used to be conned by grain buyers who either gave them fake notes as payment or failed to pay them," said Mamombe's neighbour, Johnson Manyere, 54.
The World Food Programme (WFP) initiative which is prompting Mamombe's return to maize farming involves technical support to smallholder farmers and the identification of local traders who can guarantee them prompt cash payments and low transport costs as a result of a more efficient marketing policy. WFP then buys the grain from the traders to distribute in its food assistance programmes.
It is part of a global pilot project called the Purchase for Progress Initiative (P4P) which aims to use WFP's purchasing power and demand for staple food commodities to help smallholder farmers and small traders. By March 2011, P4P had purchased over 160,000 tons of food, mostly maize, from local suppliers in 20 countries, according to a recently published mid-term review of the programme.
In Zimbabwe, the local purchasing initiative is currently operating in Mashonaland West and Mashonaland Central provinces and involves hundreds of local smallholder farmers and several international NGOs including Goal International as well as SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and International Relief and Development. Its aim is to boost cereal production at a time when many farmers are opting for cash crops such as tobacco.
WFP Country Director Felix Bamezon told IRIN that the local traders selected to participate in the scheme operate in grain surplus areas located as close as possible to the food insecure districts to which the grain will be transported for distribution. This minimized transportation costs, provided the farmers with ready markets and "should positively impact on future productivity", said Bamezon, who hopes that the initiative will also stabilize the price of maize, especially immediately after harvest time when prices are low due to poor demand.
Bamezon added that paying farmers on time had "a positive bearing on [their] cash flows and ability to prepare for the coming season". Some of the traders also sell inputs such as seed and fertilizer offering farmers a one-stop-shop.
In southwestern parts of the country perennially affected by drought, the scheme involves the buying of not only maize but small grains such as sorghum and millet as a way of encouraging communities to consider such grains as cash crops, instead of last-resort production crops in cases where maize fails.
Denford Chimbwanda, president of the Grain and Cereals Producers Association (GCPA), is upbeat about the WFP initiative and confident it will offset a potential rapid increase in the number of farmers producing maize.
Renewed confidence in cereals
"It is not possible to say how many farmers will positively respond to the initiative, but what is clear is that hundreds of them will have renewed confidence in maize and cereal production. The initiative provides farmers with guarantees that their produce will have a ready market and that is very essential in stimulating production," Chimbwanda told IRIN.
Since June 2011, WFP has purchased 1,944 tons of grain from local traders for distribution in food insecure areas, adding to the 11,100 tons the agency has bought from traders in Malawi, Zambia and South Africa as part of its regional grain purchasing scheme.
The initiative has not been without its teething problems. According to Bamezon, small local traders tend to have problems getting assistance from banks, lack experience, and are sometimes unwilling to establish themselves in remote areas with poor infrastructure.
A worker with a Harare-based grain supplier participating in the scheme who declined to be named said his company planned to increase its buying stations in Mashonaland West and Central provinces, despite such difficulties.
"From our experience this year, a lot of farmers are willing to sell to us because they feel we can be depended on," he said.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]