Martin Kadzere and Kuda Mhundwa
Government has come up with regulations to curb side marketing of agricultural commodities produced under its various contract farming programmes.
The Agriculture Marketing Authority (Command Agriculture Scheme for Domestic Crop, Livestock and Fisheries Production) Regulations of 2018, gazetted last Friday also seek to deal with the abuse of agricultural inputs given to the farmers.
This is in relation to diversion of inputs towards production of other crops not contracted. In addition, the regulations make it an offence to withhold the produce after harvest.
The Government is participating in various agricultural funding programmes through Command Agriculture or Vulnerable Input Support Schemes meant to boost production.
However, the repayment rate, particularly from farmers under Command Agriculture had been low partly as a result of diversion of produce to other buyers.
Such practice is prevalent in the cotton sector where private companies — despite not adequately funding production — have been targeting the crop financed by the government by offering farmers prices slightly above the official producer price.
The private companies would afford to pay more since they would have not invested much.
Some beneficiaries of the programmes have also been selling the inputs, such as fertilisers, while others diverted them towards production of commodities outside the contracts.
This has contributed to low yields, resulting in farmers failing to produce enough crops to repay the loans.
Recently, the Government warned defaulting farmers under Command Agriculture that they risked becoming ineligible to further access the inputs. Under Command Agriculture, the private sector provides funding while Government identifies farmers. When farmers sell their produce, the investor is paid off from part of the proceeds.
But if farmers fail to pay back the value of the support rendered, the Government picks up the debt. Under the Vulnerable Input Support Scheme, farmers receive free inputs but there had been rampant diversion of the produce to other buyers, particularly in the cotton sector, resulting in the Government incurring losses.
Under the new regulations, provided in the Statutory Instrument 274 of 2018 gazetted last Friday, it is now a criminal offense to be found in possession of any agricultural inputs in excess of what the farmers need, unlawful sale, purchase and possession of agricultural produce or contracted crop and the misuse of farm inputs.
“Any farmer who, misappropriates any agricultural inputs or being in possession of any agricultural input in excess of what he or she needs to produce or contracted to produce . . .
“(Or) any person who deals in or handles agricultural inputs or contract produce in contravention of a scheme contract, that is to say, purchases, receives, stores, sells, obtains, possesses or otherwise disposes of agricultural inputs (or) purchases, receives, stores, sells, obtains, possesses or otherwise disposes agricultural produce. Shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable to a fine not exceeding level 4 or imprisonment not exceeding three months or both such fine and imprisonment,” read part of the regulations.
The regulations also make it a crime to withhold the contracted crop after harvesting. Analysts say while the regulations were a positive move towards curbing side marketing and abuse of inputs, regulatory enforcement was critical.