Bulawayo South Member of Parliament Eddie Cross says Zimbabwe can easily become a maize exporter again. What is needed is a firm price from the Grain Marketing Board announced in advance backed by the ability to pay.
In his contribution to the debate on the GMB audits, Cross said Zimbabwe today was facing a phenomenal problem because it might have to import maize from the United States or Latin America as its neighbours are running out of stocks.
This would mean paying for the maize in advance, paying for the shipping and transporting the grain from South African ports to Zimbabwe by rail, something that was almost impossible because of the dilapidated state of the country’s railway system.
“In the long term, we have to look at our maize crop, we could grow entire maize requirements on 200 000 hectares of maize. We plant every year 2 million hectares, it would cost about US$300m in inputs to produce a crop like that,” he said.
“We can easily produce twice that amount. We can easily become the next exporters. Zimbabwe used to be the biggest exporter of white maize in the world. We used to supply Japan and we can easily get there. What is needed is a firm price from the GMB announced in advance and backed by the ability to pay. What we need is storage capacity for that maize when the producers have produced it, and they have to be paid in time.
“In the past, the GMB paid farmers within 48 hours irrespective of the volume they were delivering. What is wrong with us that we cannot reorganise ourselves so that we can do that today? What is wrong with us?”
HON. CROSS: Hon. Madam Speaker, I want to give the House this afternoon an extreme warning. In 1992, we had a very severe drought and there were two men who saved this country from widespread starvation. The one was the Minister Cephas Msipa and the other was the general manager at G.M.B – Mr. Gapare. These two men acted unilaterally in anticipation of the crisis and began to import food in very large quantities from abroad. Right now in South Africa, there have been no planting rains for the last 6 weeks.
The prospect in South Africa is that there could be a near total failure of the South African maize crop. We have the situation where we in Zimbabwe have zero reserves. We are inputting today 150 000 tonnes of maize a month to feed the nation. Zimbabwe today is on 100% imported maize. The situation is that if South Africa has inadequate maize to feed the nation and for South Africa the stocks are about 2 ½ month’s supply, they will stop exporting maize to Zimbabwe. In addition, Zambia which has been our major source of supply for the past two years is in a situation where its own reserves are inadequate to meet its own internal security requirements.
Hon. Madam Speaker, if the drought that is expected this year materializes, the situation is that Zimbabwe will not be able to pick up a telephone and phone a South African or Zambian supplier and have maize here in 48 hours. The situation at the moment is that Zimbabwe is importing maize from neighbhouring states close to our boarders, we can phone and in 7 days we can have a truck load in Harare. We can put it through the mills and put it in the marketplace and it cost us about US$220 to US$250 a tonne.
If that does not become possible this year because of the inadequate rainfall which is predicted, and we are forced to import from abroad, let me just remind the House of what is involved. If we are to import our national requirements, it will require 200 ships because the only place in the world where we can secure maize will be the US Gulf or South American states, it requires 65 000 railway wagons to bring the maize from the ports to Zimbabwe, it is 5 trains a day. Zimbabwe no longer has the capacity to do that. We had that capacity in 1992; we had the financial capacity to order the maize. If you order maize from the Gulf, you have to pay for it on the day in which you place the order and you have to pay for it in cash. Once you buy the maize on the Gulf at about US$190 a tonne you have to ship it by rail down to coast. You then have to load it on ships which you have to pay for in advance and then when it arrives in South African ports you have to find the capacity to unload the product. If South Africa is importing millions of tonnes of maize and our regional surplus is estimated at 7 million tonnes, we are talking of thousands of vessels, we are not talking small numbers here. If that is the case, South Africa will not give us the capacity to unload our own maize in South African ports.
I do not think members of this House understand the magnitude of the crisis that confronts the country. I do not believe this thing is even understood by the present administration. If we are not given space in South African ports, how on earth do we unload the maize that we need for Zimbabwe? If you have not unloaded it you have to then employ railway wagons not road trucks to bring it here. It has to be paid for in advance, now we are talking about US$500m and the Government does not have the capacity. Hon. Madam Speaker that is the price of the thing we are talking about today.
We have no strategic grain reserves; none and we have to address this issue. In my view, we need a minimum of three months cover which is 450 000 tonnes of maize that would cost about US$125 million, then you have to [AN HON MEMBER: Can you please wind up] – no I am not going to wind up because this is critically important – my goodness, you guys –
THE TEMPORARY SPEAKER: Hon. Cross, please speak to the Chair.
HON. CROSS: Alright Hon. Madam Speaker. When you do that when you import 450 you have got to be able to store it. Now, we have 700 000 tonnes capacity in silos and the silos are excellent for storing maize but they have to be maintained. If we have not been maintaining them, this is criminal negligence and underlying all of this Auditor General’s report is the failure to deliver on the statutory requirements. In doing so, they are putting the very security of this nation at stake and I hope that when the Minister responds to this debate today, that he responds properly. If he is unable to respond properly to these critical issues, then quite frankly, he does not deserve to be a minister of our Government.
In the long term, we have to look at our maize crop, we could grow entire maize requirements on 200 000 hectares of maize. We plant every year 2 million hectares, it would cost about US$300m in inputs to produce a crop like that. We can easily produce twice that amount. We can easily become the next exporters. Zimbabwe used to be the biggest exporter of white maize in the world. We used to supply Japan and we can easily get there. What is needed is a firm price from the GMB announced in advance and backed by the ability to pay. What we need is storage capacity for that maize when the producers have produced it, and they have to be paid in time.
In the past, the GMB paid farmers within 48 hours irrespective of the volume they were delivering. What is wrong with us that we cannot reorganise ourselves so that we can do that today? What is wrong with us? I would like to suggest that in addition to the issues raised by the Auditor-General which were extremely serious, and should result in prosecutions and arrest, it is time that the Minister made it very clear to the nation, just how he is going to manage this critical part of our national food chain. Thank you very much.