Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Command Agriculture: Govt ropes in soldiers

By Andrew Kunambura

Government has deployed soldiers to supervise the harvesting of maize produced under the Command Agriculture programme in a bid to prevent side-marketing of the crop.

File picture of Zimbabwean soldiers patrolling the streets of Glen View in Harare
File picture of Zimbabwean soldiers patrolling the streets of Glen View in Harare

The move is also meant to plug any repayment leakages as 80 percent of the value of maize delivered by the farmer is retained by government through the Grain Marketing Board (GMB).

It has also emerged that some farmers did not sign the stop order forms which would empower GMB to deduct its retention fees.

This has seen a considerable number of farmers holding on to their crop after government devised a strategy to deposit money into a special trust fund where it would be kept until the farmer completes the stop order form as required.

Government has a database with the full list of beneficiaries and the quantities of inputs they got.

The soldiers are reportedly moving into farms and ensuring that farmers do not hold on to their crop.

It is understood nine lieutenant-colonels and 65 majors from the Zimbabwe National Army and other senior Zimbabwe Defence Forces officers have been deployed under the Command Agriculture programme.

They are said to be inspecting moisture content in the grain, and where the crop is found to have the 12,5 percent minimum level, the army officers then order the farmer to harvest it.

This comes as government is racing against time as it needs to use the proceeds from last season to prepare for the coming season which kicks off in three months’ time.

Government hopes to recover close to $200 million it spent on farming inputs.

The producer price has been set at an attractive $390 per tonne, which is more than double the price in regional markets.

Analysts have warned the GMB price creates arbitrage opportunities, where some merchants could possibly source grain abroad for sale in Zimbabwe. Government has since banned maize imports.

Government sources said there is serious concern regarding deliveries which have been much lower than anticipated, leading to the decision to deploy the army.

Figures show that as at July 31, only 230 000 tonnes of grain had been delivered to GMB, which translates to just a fraction of government’s huge 2,1 million tonnes forecast production of the staple maize.

Chairperson of the Command Agriculture taskforce Justin Mupamhanga — who also doubles as deputy chief secretary to the president and Cabinet — declined to comment saying only Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa had authority to do so.

“I am not giving any statements at the moment. Only the VP can do that,” Mupamhanga said.

Mnangagwa, who was recently discharged from a South African hospital due to suspected food poisoning, is the overall supervisor of the programme.

Mnangagwa has previously rubbished allegations that the project has been militarised, claiming it was voluntary — not Soviet-style or Stalinist.

But senior government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals said soldiers were currently working in Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland West provinces.

Government sources involved in Command Agriculture monitoring and evaluation said some farmers were declaring false amounts of inputs they received in a bid to avoid paying in full.

In one case, a Cabinet minister (name supplied) received 1 600 tonnes of Compound D fertiliser but he claimed to have got just 1 200 tonnes.

“The minister fought hard to avoid paying for the remaining 400 tonnes until the Command Agriculture taskforce produced papers indicating that the minister had actually signed for 1 600 tonnes,” a government source said. 

In another incident, documents seen by the Daily News show a Zanu PF senator (name also withheld) received 18 000 litres of diesel, but wanted to pay for only 10 000 litres.

“It emerged that the two were among some of the farmers who were yet to sign stop-order forms, so it was decided that there should be a follow-up and the army was thought to be most suitable for the task. They are making sure that the inputs are paid for and not consumed for free,” the source said.

“All those farmers who have not yet harvested their crop are being pursued with the aim of assessing the moisture content and make sure they deliver to GMB only.

“So if you hear people saying there is side-marketing of the crop, they would be lying because soldiers are on the ground and they will be in each province, tracking farmers and even giving them dates by which they are expected to deliver their grain to GMB. Most places visited so far are in Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland West provinces,” added the source.

While government has played up prospects of a significant maize surplus, some assessments suggest output could be lower than official projections of 2,1 million tonnes of maize.

Government has adjusted its forecast from earlier joyful pronouncements of as much as three million tonnes this harvesting season. Daily News