Govt ban on maize imports ‘counterproductive’

Previous image of maize being imported from South Africa

By Alex Bell
SW Radio Africa
06 May 2014

The government decision to ban all imports of maize has been described as a counterproductive move, with the potential to drive up maize prices and potentially lead to serious shortages.

The decision, made last week, is meant to help ‘protect’ local farmers and comes after Agriculture Minister Joseph Made recently predicted a ‘bumper’ harvest.

But Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) President Charles Taffs said Tuesday that the country is yet to return to the production levels achieved in the sector before the land grab campaign was launched over a decade ago. He said that the country should be aiming to produce about 2.2 million tonnes of maize a year, but Zimbabwe is currently only producing between 900 thousand and one million tonnes.

“We are producing way below consumption, so the ban is counterproductive because we will face a shortage going forward,” Taffs said.

ZANU PF’s land grab campaign saw the most profitable commercial farms in Zimbabwe being seized, often violently, and handed over to party elites and other beneficiaries. The majority of those properties have since fallen into disuse, and the agricultural growth being lauded as the ‘success’ of the land grab campaign has been witnessed in tobacco, not food.

The situation has left hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans facing food shortages. The majority of food in the country is imported, while over two million people are in need of food aid according to the World Food Programme.

Taffs said that until food production returns to levels where the nation can feed itself, banning maize imports “makes little sense.”

He meanwhile said that the government decision creates an “absurd situation” that will ultimately not help maize producers or normal Zimbabweans. He said part of the problem is a lack of faith in the national Grain Marketing Board (GMB), because of the parastatal’s failure to pay what it owes producers. He explained that private millers will offer a lower price for the maize, but this will still be preferable than risking not being paid by the GMB.

“Private millers base their prices on import parity or they run the risk of having stock they can’t get rid of if the price is too high. If the ban is in place on the assumption that the millers will pay the GMB producer price, well that’s not going to happen,” Taffs said.

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