10 July 2017

Zimbabwe: Cash Crisis Buffet Cotton Farmers

Clad in a red jersey to match her black skirt and black winter boots, Fadzai Madera's fashion sense is sophisticated and remarkable. Her stylish hairpiece, fashionable in urban centres around the country, complements her look, but this will not mask her problems -- the cash in particular.

Madera, from the Sanyati cotton-farming area, says she has been marginalised and deprived of her right to transact and earn a living.

Like many other farmers, she has over the years mastered her trade and knows the pros and cons of maximising her yield, but her trouble, now, is how to get paid as she struggles to cash-out after getting payments on mobile money platforms due to the current cash crisis.

"I have so far sold seven bales and I am expecting to get US$500, but the challenge is there is no cash and I was asked to take half of it on EcoCash," Madera said. "I just need my 500 dollars to buy what I want."

EcoCash is Econet's mobile money platform that has been battling rivals, NetOne's OneWallet and Telecel's Telecash.

"I can't use a phone. I could use my son's phone, but then it's my money and it's painful to have to give up control of your money just like that," she said, adding the US$10 cost of a basic mobile phone device is too much when there are competing needs such as food.

"We want cash to pay school fees, buy food and for bus fare. Where do we get it? Children are being chased out of school but we have worked and produced cotton.

"We get cheaper groceries from individuals who go to South Africa and they want cash. At times they even want US dollars only, so imagine if bond notes are not wanted, what more the EcoCash?"

Madera said she has been losing a lot of money through transaction fees on mobile money.

She said government must come up with a strategy to assist farmers to get paid for their work.

"I am a farmer and what I produce is used in this country or exported. What I am saying is government knows how much we get; they should just prepare and make sure there is adequate cash to pay us.

"The small shops that are here have no cash either and I have to travel 100km to Kadoma to get cash but there is no guarantee I will get it. Imagine I spend US$5 to get into Kadoma to cash out and have no luck. I still need to go back home and I would have lost money in the process. When you are lucky you get US$20," Madera added.

According to the latest Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) report for the first quarter of 2017, a total of 3 251 784 mobile money subscribers were active in the first quarter of 2017, representing a 1,6% decline from 3 303 188 recorded in the fourth quarter of 2016.

An active mobile money subscriber is defined as a customer account that has used the mobile money service to make transactions that involve the movement of value such as cash-in, cash-out, bill payments, airtime top-ups- at least once in the last 90 days.

Econet registered a 1,7% decline in active mobile money subscribers while Telecel and NetOne reported growth of 5,1% and 22,6% compared to the previous quarter respectively.

Telecel was the only operator to register an increase in active mobile money agents. The overall decline in active agents is attributed to liquidity constraints as cash is required to facilitate cash-in and cash-out transactions.

Potraz said there was an average 0,5% decline in active mobile money agents. NetOne registered an 11,2% fall in active mobile money agents compared to the previous quarter while Econet reported a 0,7% decline.

The decline in mobile money agents was, however, offset by growth registered by a 4,3% growth in Telecel.

There was a general decline in cash-in, cash-out and cross-network mobile money transactions in the first quarter of 2017 fell by 9,8% from 286, 690, 912 in the fourth quarter of 2016 to close the first quarter of 2017 at 258, 627,189 while cash out transactions also fell by 8% to 256,703,173 at the end of March compared to the previous quarter.

Cross-network transfers fell by 65,95 to US$634,143.43. Merchant payments totalled US$152,150,723.

The decline in cash-in, cash-out and cross-network transfers is attributed to the current cash crisis in the economy.

Zimbabwe Farmers' Union cotton commodity national chairperson Ishmael Pande said cash constraints are fuelling side marketing of the white gold, causing headaches for contractors.

"Side marketing remains a challenge as some unscrupulous buyers are offering cash to farmers who are unable to get cash. At times, the cash offered is low, prejudicing the farmer," Pande said.

"Cottco has no money, it will give you half cash and half EcoCash. Very few farers can cope because they need hard cash to buy inputs and for their upkeep. Farmers lose a lot of time trying to get money instead of preparing for their season," he said.

Pande said there is need for more cotton buyers in the market to give farmers options.

"Where there is competition, the farmers benefits and if there is no competition, the farmer loses. If there is competition, cotton prices go up but if they are just a few then there is a high risk of collusion," Pande said.

"Currently, people are getting 40 to 47 cents per kg but we need about 65 USc per kg so that the farmer gets something for their sweat. Cotton is not easy; there is a lot of work."

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