Zimbabwe: GMB eases restrictions on grain sales

JOHANNESBURG, 28 April (IRIN) - The Zimbabwe government will allow individuals to sell limited quantities of grain throughout the country, relaxing restrictions that make its Grain Marketing Board (GMB) the sole buyer and seller of grain, state media reported.
Permits obtainable from GMB depots will allow the movement of from 150 kg to 10 mt of grain countrywide, acting chief executive officer of the GMB, retired lieutenant-colonel Samuel Muvhuti said.

In addition, up to 150 kg of grain can be sold throughout the country without a permit and communal farmers can sell small quantities of grain in rural areas.

"There has been an outcry that the GMB could be overdoing its grain monitoring exercise, particularly at roadblocks," Muvhuti said. "People with just a bucket or a maximum of three bags of maize can move their grain without the approval from our Loss Control Department."

The police would be informed of the changes and farmers were encouraged to report policemen who confiscate the smaller quantities, or larger quantities moved with a permit. He said the government was more concerned with the illegal export of its heavily subsided grain than its movement within the country.

Zimbabwe is in the throes of critical food shortages due to a combination of drought, economic crisis and a land reform programme that severely disrupted commercial production, leaving almost half the population in need of food aid.

NGO's have repeatedly urged the GMB to relax its controls on the national grain supply and allow free movement of grain, also from outside the country, to alleviate shortages.

"We are doing this in an effort to make sure that the little we have is equitably distributed amongst our people. We also want to build our strategic reserve," Muvhuti said.

A Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) spokesman told IRIN on Monday that allowing the free movement of less than 150 kg of grain would allow people like urban dwellers harvesting a few bags from a small vacant plot to send food to family in another area. Communal farmers would also benefit by being able to move small amounts of their surplus for selling, instead of taking it to the GMB as required.

However, for commercial farmers it would mean a tightening of control.

"[commercial] Farmers are still not allowed to sell freely. They are contracted to grow large quantities for stock feed or other purposes and now have to deliver directly to the company they have the contract with, instead of going via the GMB.

"If farmers produce extra grain above the contracted amount, they are still forced to take it to the GMB and cannot sell it privately," the CFU spokesman said. "The GMB will monitor the contract deliveries and farmers will still only be paid the government stipulated price."

A recently released report, "Relief and Recovery in Zimbabwe", by the Training and Research Support Centre (TARSC), analysed GMB deliveries in January 2003. It noted that national deliveries of price-controlled food by the GMB had run into difficulties in 49 percent of districts.

The problems facing the GMB's inability to maintain supplies were reportedly due to fuel and transport problems, and the government's lack of access to foreign currency - all factors compounding the GMB's low reserves.

Quoting December figures from the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee, the TARSC report noted that only 14 percent of households said they were able to afford the uncontrolled "parallel" market rates for grain.

"Importing adequate supplies and making national food imports accessible to poor households at community level are thus the most important immediate and urgent gaps to address in food security," the TARSC report said.

Timothy Neill, a spokesman for the National NGO Food Security Network (FOSENET) told IRIN that the decision to allow freer movement of grain was a step in the right direction.

"The more things are freed the better. There should be no restrictions, as these create artificial shortages, particularly in urban areas where people have had food confiscated, and where the government has used food as a political weapon.

"The whole control of grain is very much a smokescreen for corrupt practices, and increasing freedom means reducing the levels of corruption," he said.

To view the TARSC report: http://www.sarpn.org.za/documents/d0000267/P257_Zimbabwe.pdf [ENDS]

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