Zimbabwe: Maize imports continue despite 'bumper harvest'

by Njabulo Ncube

Harare, Apr 28, 2005 (Financial Gazette/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) - Despite claims that Zimbabwe realised an all-time high maize harvest of 2,4 million tonnes in the 2003/2004 agricultural season, the erstwhile regional breadbasket has been importing grain in the past nine months to augment depleted stocks, a report by the Famine Early Warning System (FEWSNET) reveals.

At least 102 000 metric tonnes of maize, 17 000 metric tonnes of rice and 17 000 metric tonnes of beans had been imported into the country through informal cross border trade between July 2004 and last month, according to the report.

The latest revelations come as it also emerged Harare needs a staggering US$420 million for maize imports to cover a serious grain deficit estimated to be 1.2 million metric tonnes between April 2005 and the next harvest in March 2006.

Zimbabwe, which last week held stocks of about 60 000 tonnes, had together with Malawi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo been active participants in the informal trade of maize grain, a staple food in most southern African nations.

The country, which last year refused international food aid claiming it had enough to feed its starving rural population, imported 13 000 metric tonnes mainly from Zambia in the nine months.

During the same period, it also imported unspecified tonnages of rice and beans from Zambia, now home to a number of white commercial farmers who left Zimbabwe in the wake of the land reform programme meant to benefit the landless black majority.

The government acquired about 4 500 commercial farms from white farmers for redistribution to nearly 140 000 landless blacks. However, statistics at hand show that for the past five years since the onset of land reform, the new farmers have failed to feed the nation hence an upsurge in the importation of grain by both the formal and informal sectors from neighbouring countries.

Harare has also in recent weeks inc-reased imports from South Africa where it is understood to be purchasing white maize at US$120 per tonne.

Malawi, another southern Africa nation reeling from severe drought-induced food shortages blamed on poor rains, also emerged a bigger dabbler in the maize informal trade than Zimbabwe, procuring a total of 71 000 metric tonnes, mostly from Mozambique.

"The flow of trade was in the expected direction as both Malawi and Zimbabwe had cereal deficits whereas the major exporters-Mozambique and Zambia-had above average harvests," the FEWSNET report said, adding informal maize exports into Zimbabwe could have been much higher had the country not imposed restrictive taxes and levies, which only favoured the state-owned Grain Marketing Board (GMB).

The GMB is the country's sole trader of grain and as such it is a criminal offence for anyone to trade in grain.