Rumbidzai Ngwenya Features Writer
FOR Gogo Cornelia Chiriseri (75) of Mabvuku, Harared, the coming of the rainy season means life. For her, it means it’s time to buy seed and prepare the land for cropping.
Farming is in her blood and she makes sure she comes out of her home and goes out to buy seed in town.
“The cropping season is no time for jokes but to make sure everything goes according to plan. I have to buy seed, till my plot and wait for the rains to plant maize,” she said.
But her farming spirit got dampened when she couldn’t afford to buy a 10kg bag of maize, which had gone up from $27 to $100.
“I was shocked. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I was told that the price had gone up to $100,” Gogo Chiriseri said.
“I went back empty-handed. I tell you things are not going according to plan. Even when they said prices had been reduced, it was still too high for me. All this means, I will not plant much this year and this in turn means hunger for me and my family.”
She is not alone. Even farmer groupings in the country are bitter.
While the Government has called the seed and fertiliser producers to reduce prices of farming inputs they are still unacceptably high, farmer groups say.
Over the past few weeks the prices of maize seed and fertiliser have risen to unprecedented levels. A 10 kilogramme bag of maize seed went up from $27 to $100, while a 25 kilogramme bag shot from $70 to $170 to $251.
Farmer groups said although prices had been reduced by nearly 50 percent after Government intervention, farmers feel the new prices are still high and out of their reach.
“What farmers have budgeted for and what is now required is extremely high. Major inputs are going double the normal costs the farmers have budgeted for,” said the president of Federation of Farmers’ Unions, Mr Wonder Chabikwa.
“As much as the Government has intervened and prices lowered to where they are, it’s still too much for the farmers.”
He fears farmers will incur huge losses.
“In all these price hikes producer prices have not been reviewed. This means before farmers start farming there is a loss already unless producer prices are reviewed upwards to maintain profit margins,” he said.
With the current prices there are also fears that most farmers will downsize.
Another farmer representative body, the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union, has raised the red flag over the price hikes and the effects they are likely to have on the country’s food security especially after a warning that there is a high chance of a an El Nino-induced drought in Zimbabwe and other Sadc countries in the 2018-2019 cropping season.
“The revised prices are denoting 100 percent increase on the original and we don’t know what is justifying the input price increases,” said ZFU director Mr Paul Zakariya.
“But, if not addressed, farmers will be forced to seriously downsize and push for high producer prices. This will have a very negative impact on most of the plans to stabilise our economy and maintain food security.”
Women in farming have also not been spared from the seed price crisis.
Zimbabwe Indigenous Women Farmer Trust (ZWFAT) fears this is a final blow that will see many women quitting the business.
“Most of our women in farming are widows and farming is already a challenging business. We face abuse from the community and limited access to resources unlike our male counterparts among other challenges,” said ZWFAT’s Ms Depinah Nkomo.
“Everything has gone up including equipment hiring fees and chemicals. It’s unaffordable. With these price hikes many women arelikely to quit farming, something which has serious implications on household and national food security.”
The organisation has, however, approached the Zimbabwe Women’s Microfinance Bank for support. They entered into a Memorandum of Understanding so that women in farming can get money to hire equipment.
In the meantime the organisation is considering importing farming inputs to cut costs.
“We are thinking of importing inputs so that we are not affected. Farming is our source of income as widows, so quitting may not be an alternative. We would rather find ways to survive this. But we are hoping the situation will be addressed soon,” she said.
Ms Nkomo called for investors and companies to support women in farming.
Farmer groupings called on the Government to urgently address the seed price issue to ensure food security in the country.
“Government must introduce policies that ensure stability in the operating environment. This should be done in close consultation with all the key stakeholders. A first step was made when the President met with industry. Farmers and industry must now meet to agree on practical issues given the changes in the socio-economic and political space,” they said.
Another implored the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that farming inputs or producer prices are reviewed.
Farmers also raised concerns over other issues that are affecting them such as high costs of farming equipment, unavailability of critical inputs on the market and the requirement of US dollars to purchase most inputs.
Agriculture remains one of the major sectors in the economy of Zimbabwe. In order for the country to regain its status as the breadbasket of Southern Africa, prices of critical inputs need to be reviewed downwards to enhance farmers’ viability.