11 June 2013

Zimbabwe: Review Maize Producer Price to Encourage Production

Every year farmers complain about the low maize producer price, with the Government showing little inclination towards fixing the pricing issue. The maize producer price has become a perennial menace, which only the Government can solve, failure of which we continue to burden ourselves with huge import costs. What has unfortunately emerged over a couple of seasons is the reluctance by Government to tackle the issue and have farmers paid producer prices that allow them to recover their cost of production, break even or even make a profit, for that is the essence of being in business.

We really feel for the farmers, considering what they go through to produce the crop. They have to endure high cost of inputs, such as fertiliser, chemicals, seed and labour only to be paid US$310 per tonne, which does very little for them to recoup their costs and be able to go back to the field the next season.

Maize production or growing of any other crop does not start and end with the inputs as there is also the harvesting side of production that has to be taken care of.

Farmers with big hectarage will have to hire combine harvesters at a cost of US$80 per hectare and this translates into a huge amount of money and those with smaller hectarages will hire labour for harvesting and this takes a big chunk off their revenue.

In some quarters, farmers have sadly been branded "cry babies" because they continuously fight to be paid a maize producer price that takes into account the high production costs involved in maize production.

Because the Government has chosen to turn a deaf ear on farmers complaints, it has unfortunately given the impression farmers are fond of complaining yet they do so genuinely.

It costs roughly US$1 055 per hectare to produce dry land maize and over US$1 500 per hectare for the irrigated crop and considering that our farmers' yield levels are a bit low they will be lucky to produce a crop that gives them US$1 500 based on the current producer price.

This is why it is important for Government to intervene on behalf of farmers by reviewing upwards the maize producer price.

It has been argued in the past that it is cheaper to import maize from Malawi and other countries, which is true but the maize is cheaper in those countries because production costs are way below those that subsist in Zimbabwe.

Our inputs, such as fertiliser, are expensive and so it becomes quite costly to grow maize. This is why paltry producer prices of US$310 per tonne will never encourage farmers to increase their hectarage under maize and instead we have witnessed massive growth in other crops such as tobacco, cotton and soya beans.

For as long as farmers are paid discouraging prices, maize production will continue to tumble and this has nothing to do with land reform but purely simple economics.

Those opposed to land reform will rush to blame tumbling production on the programme yet the fall in production is because of low maize producer prices and at times erratic rainfall patterns.

Farmers are moving to high paying crops such as tobacco and soya beans and only growing maize for household consumption.

We cannot be a nation that depends on maize imports when we know we have the potential and capability to grow maize to feed ourselves and even export the surplus.

We have done this before and nothing stops us achieving it. All that is needed is Government's commitment towards ensuring farmers are paid break-even prices or prices that give them a profit.

At the moment our farmers are growing maize at a loss and this is why there has been a shift from maize to tobacco and soya beans.

The Grain Marketing Board needs to review the producer price to lure more farmers into maize production, to replenish the Strategic Grain Reserve.

Maize production is always a national food security matter and all efforts must be taken towards ensuring that we attain self-sufficiency.

We want to urge Government to take the farmers' complaints seriously and do whatever is within its means to support maize farmers.

We can only encourage more farmers to grow maize by proving, through producer prices, that there is money to be made from maize production, in the same way there is a lot of money being made by tobacco and soya bean farmers.

We stand to benefit more, as a country, by having more farmers growing maize as we would be able to save on the much-needed foreign currency that we are presently spending on importing maize, a crop we are renowned as net exporters instead of net importers.

The only way we can go back to being net exporters of maize is by paying producer prices that encourage farmers to continue growing the crop.

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