Amadeusz Juskowiak

Zimbabwes maize mountain poses economic problem

More than two mln tonnes of surplus maize dotted across Zimbabwe in huge piles is posing an economic headache for the country

The grain Southern Africas staple has been bought by the Grain Marketing Board GMB at prices guaranteed before it was planted and is costing the GMB about 27 mln dlrs a month in storage and interest payments to make the purchases

Accumulated over the past two years of bumper harvests the surplus represents about two years of domestic consumption and is set to grow as further deliveries are due shortly

Some deals have been made with aid donors such as European countries and Australia to provide Zimbabwe with wheat in return for maize sent to neighbouring Mozambique where the United Nations has urged greater world efforts to feed the hungry

But transport constraints keep those figures low and the only significant dent was a sale of 250000 tonnes to South Africa last year

Because of the costs it has incurred the GMB cannot afford to give the maize away and the standard 90 kg bags have been accumulating economists here said

But failure to find buyers on glutted world grain markets is damaging Zimbabwe as it needs foreign exchange to finance imports for other areas of the economy the economists added

At present it is a nowin situation Let us hope some of the extra aid UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar called for at the weekend will be spent here a Western aid specialist said

At least this years poor rains havent exacerbated the situation too badly he added Rainfall during the current rainy season has been far below average ravaging all but the irrigated lands of large commercial farmers

While this may curb the amount of maize delivered this year to the GMB the government also acted late last year to slash maize production and force diversification

Calling for a switch to other crops such as oilseeds Agriculture Minister Moven Mahachi said an economicallyviable price of 180 dlrs a tonne would be paid this year for only half the amount of maize bought by the GMB in 1986 and above that growers would be paid an unprofitable 100 dlrs

The poor rains have also adversely affected other crops such as sorghum soybeans groundnuts tobacco and cotton the Agriculture Ministry reported at the end of February