Harare (New Ziana) – Zimbabwe has adequate grain stocks in its strategic reserve, the government said on Thursday, allaying fears of hunger stoked by the current dry spell and the recent lifting of the ban on maize imports.
In mid-February, government lifted the ban imposed on maize imports since early last year following a bumper harvest, citing increased demand for the staple food.
Millers will be importing using their own free funds.
On the other hand, farmers have in recent weeks sounded alarm bells over the state of crops given the extended dry spell across the country, raising fears of impending grain shortages.
In an interview, Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president Shadreck Makombe said: “It is a bad season when we are comparing to last year because the rains disappeared at a critical stage.”
Also commenting on the matter, Small to Medium Scale Millers Association of Zimbabwe chairman Davis Muhambi said: “When we start talking of imports, it becomes a bit concerning for us as millers because by nature imports are reflective of troubled times to come, also because by nature imports require foreign currency and the situation of foreign currency, despite there being an auction, leave room for concern. Will we be able to meet the foreign currency requirements?”
But, Lands, Agriculture, Water, Fisheries and Rural Resettlement deputy Minister Vangelis Haritatos said the current dry spell and the lifting of the import ban did not spell immediate danger.
He explained that the ban was lifted after a lobby by players in the milling industry, who had sought increased allocations from the Grain Marketing Board (GMB).
Grain millers and stock feed manufacturers are allocated 45 000 metric tonnes and 30 000 metric tonnes of maize respectively, monthly.
“What happened is the players (millers) came to us and said we want you to increase our allocations, and we said at this present moment we had budgeted for a certain allocation per month, so if you are willing to import maize, we will allow you to import maize but using your own free funds, you cannot go to the (RBZ) auction to bid for additional funding for the maize imports. As government, we will continue with the current allocations and you simply complement government efforts, there is no problem. The total allocation between the millers and the stock feed manufacturers is about 75 000 metric tonnes a month and that allocation is continuing, that is not changing. We have sufficient stocks until the next buying season,” he told New Ziana.
“The season we have got now is a funny season but we are still expecting good yields. Based on the hectarage that we have got on the ground, we are still expecting a good harvest so it was not about us feeling that we do not have enough food in the country.”
By January 19, 2022 a total of 1 563 200 hectares of maize, 44 898 hectares of soya bean, and 243 254 hectares under sorghum had been recorded.
A Crop and Livestock Assessment is underway and its results will provide better insight into national hectarage and projected output.
Haritatos added: “We have got sufficient grain stocks in the country; we are not running out of maize any-time soon. Our Strategic Grain Reserve is well in place, we have well over 500 000 tonnes of maize so we are not worried in any way or form but simply that the private sector had requested and we said we are a listening government we will allow you to import but you cannot go to the auction.”
The SGR, a government stockpile of grain for the purpose of meeting future domestic and also helps during food emergencies, is maintained at a mandatory stock level of 500 000 tons.
Zimbabwe’s consumes about 1.8 million tons of grain annually.
Asked whether the opening of imports would not create arbitrage opportunities, Haritatos said adequate safeguards had been put in place.
“We are confident enough now that we have processes that are in place, Agritex, for example, they are on the ground and we have a central registry now of all farmers in Zimbabwe under the Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) so we are confident that the checks and balances that we have in place will not allow for any form of arbitrage to take place. We feel that anything coming from South Africa, for example, will not make its way to GMB because of the systems that we have put in place,” he said.
“We are also limiting the number of permits, it is not a free for all. We are looking at the individual company that comes to apply, whether they are registered with AMA and what kind of player they are. We are not entertaining any briefcase companies and we are also giving them permits only for 90 days or less depending on the quantities, so it is not a free for all where we have millions of tonnes coming into the country.”