Late payments weigh down Zimbabwe’s farmers

Regina Pasipanodya

Eunice Machakata (49) has lost hope for a better future after failing to provide a
decent meal to her family for a long time.

Machakata lives in the Nemangwe area of Gokwe, an area well-known for producing
cotton – referred to as white gold in many circles. This was because the product was
for a long time paying farmers decently, such that they lived reasonably comfortable

Since 1991, Machakata has been living off cotton. Despite farming on a small scale,
for many years she had a relatively comfortable life, thanks to the white gold.
But in recent years, her life has turned-up-side down. Things are no longer rosy,
largely because of late payments and escalating costs of goods.

In Zimbabwe, small-scale farmers have always been the backbone of the country’s
food security producing a variety of crops, including 70 percent of maize, the
country’s staple crop.

However, the failure of the state entities such as the Grain Marketing Board (GMB)
and Cotton Company of Zimbabwe (Cottco) has adversely affected the capacity of
farmers to produce, while negatively affecting their livelihoods.

During her better days, Machakata used to own a fleet of vehicles that she would
use for her farming business, but now has only one vehicle which she is struggling to

After all, she is finding it tough to put a decent meal on the table for the family, so her
car has become an afterthought.

Machakata was an exemplary and a well-known award-winning farmer, who would
make thousands of dollars each year from farming. Her farming accolades resulted
in her holding Agricultural Field Day celebrations at her homestead every year from
the 1996/7 farming year to 2005/6 season.

Life has however become tough and she has become a pale shadow of herself.

This is how bad the situation has become for many farmers in Zimbabwe, who used
to be so productive, that the country became known as the bread basket of Southern

Challenges Faced by Farmers in Zimbabwe

Despite the efforts and resources that farmers are putting into the business, many
are suffering the brunt of late payments and escalating costs.

Some farmers have outstanding payments backdating to as far as three years. Many
have been incapacitated.

Small scale farmers who are persevering have been reduced to beggars in a manner
that each year they have to plead for their payments from the state entities COTTCO
and the GMB.

“I can’t remember the last time that we received a decent payment from COTTCO. In
the 2020/2021 marketing season we received grocery hampers as part payment
which I believe was an insult to the business as a farmer,” said Machakata.
Zimbabwe’s booming agriculture sector.

Zimbabwe was one of the biggest agricultural producers in southern and eastern
Africa in the 1990s. It was vying with Tanzania and was also the region’s quality
leader up until recently.

The sector was a booming foreign currency earner for the country with tobacco and
cotton as the cash crops exports, along with beef and horticulture, constituting 15%
of GDP in 1990 and 40% of the foreign currency earned.

Over the recent years, Zimbabwe has been having bumper harvests of maize and
other grains.

However, due to inconsistencies in payments, many farmers have been struggling to
stay afloat.

Since 2001, farmers had to deal with the difficulties of operating in a highly distorted
and dysfunctional economy, one that is characterized by raging inflation (over 1000
percent p.a. in 2006), shortages of essential goods, and huge uncertainty
surrounding every area of business activity.

The availability of fuel has been inconsistent for many years, forcing agricultural
enterprises to import fuel on behalf of the transporters they operate with and
occasionally even on behalf of regional fertilizer mixing businesses.

Statistics from the country’s Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) revealed that in
the 2021-2022 marketing years, the cotton output in Zimbabwe fell by 59 percent
due to protracted payment delays disappointing most farmers.

Machakata who had been surviving on cotton farming for more than 20 years never
knew that one day her status in society as a farmer would be reduced to nothing.
“I used to make money that was enough to sustain my family and would always be
able to sell my products and get paid on time.

“However, for the past five years, things have been getting worse. Selling my
produce to COTTCO has yielded nothing but turned me into a beggar. It has been
years now and my payment has not yet been cleared,” she said.

Cotton farmers have gone without payment for their crops from as far back as 2020
and with inflation ravaging the economy, growers’ earnings are reduced to a

Late payments have created real strain for growers, leading to financial instability
and insecurity.

Farmers, who have gone back to the old days of growing traditional small grains,
after experiencing food shortages from the failure of their hybrid maize crops, have
been facing the same challenge.

In Bikita, small grain farmers who supplied millet, sorghum and rapoko are still
waiting for their outstanding payments.

In Mazowe, a small-scale farmer, Denford Gwara says GMB owes him US$9 000
from the previous two seasons.

“I’ve been to GMB a lot, but they keep saying that the government hasn’t granted
them any money to pay me. They offered to help me with a portion of the debt last
year by giving me fertilizer and corn seed, but they only gave me a few bags, which
were insufficient for me to do any significant cultivation,” he said.

Gwara says he was forced to sell his old truck to raise money for inputs. He says he
has reduced the land he cultivates to just five hectares from over 40ha when
payment was coming on time.

“I am aware of several farmers in this region who are in tears because GMB’s
unwillingness to pay them. This has severely hampered their capacity to farm. Many
people used to look up to me because I produced so much wheat and maize, but
these days I struggle to keep my kids in school,” he added.

James Nkomo (43), a maize farmer in Mhangura, Makonde district has given up.
“I would rather focus on a small piece of land for growing maize for the family than
waste my time on something that will make me suffer huge losses,” he said.

“Since last year I have been getting money through artisanal mining which is much
better that wasting my time in the field. On a good day at the mine I can make from
USD80 to USD120.”

Farmers say, since last year, maize and small grain producers have not received full
payment for crops delivered to GMB.

Devaluation of the local currency

Zimbabwe has been struggling with what the World Bank characterizes as “a sharp
devaluation of the local currency against the US dollar and rising inflation rates that
have further eroded incomes of the majority of the population”.

According to a model produced by the Ministry of Agriculture, the total cost of
producing a hectare of maize is US$1 602,20 and the break-even price is
US$291.31 per tonne. The model also uses a yield assumption of 5.5 tonnes per ha
for a farmer committing inputs in the ranges highlighted in the maize budget. The
major cost factor is fertiliser taking up about 48.6 percent of the total cost per

In January 2022, a 50kg bag of ammonium nitrate was selling for between US$45
and US$55, up from about US$30 last year.

The fertilizers sold in formal shops now cost between ZWL$25 000 and ZWL$28 600
a bag while others demanding US dollars only are charging between US$68 and
US$78 a bag.

Escalating costs have been weighing down farmers, who have been grappling late
payments despite some prices having been improved this marketing season.
Tobacco prices in Zimbabwe opened at US$4.35 at the start of the new marketing
season, up from US$4.20 last year.

For wheat, the price rose to US$182.30 per tonne, up from US$154.70 in 2021.
The producer price for maize in 2022/2023 has been pegged at US$335 with
US$200 being paid in hard currency and US$135 in RTGS at the bank rate every

For soya bean the floor producer price was pegged at US$580 per metric tonne paid
to farmers by GMB with US$348 in foreign currency plus US$232 in local currency at
the interbank rate every Tuesday.

Maize, traditional grains, soya bean, and cotton have been regarded as strategic
crops that play an integral role in the Zimbabwean economy. Bumper harvests in
wheat, maize, and other small grains that have been experienced in recent years
resulting in the country becoming food sufficient.

However, due to late payments that have been affecting their business, many
farmers are considering venturing into other businesses.
GMB struggling to raise funds to pay farmers.

In his presentation before the Portfolio Committee on 16 March this year, Finance
Director of the Grain Marketing Board, Mr Clemence Guta confirmed that the
agricultural board has not been able to pay farmers in time due to stringent budgets.
“The GMB was “battling with treasury” and hoped the finance ministry would “assist
so that farmers have the money they need to finance their operations”.

“We have only managed to make payments for last year’s outstanding overheads in
April this year only for the amount that is supposed to be paid in ZWL amounting to
ZW$16, 610, 800, 000 but the forex component is still outstanding,” said Guta.

Honorable Justice Mayor Wadyajena raised concerns about how the payments
especially those in local currency will be done considering the fluctuations in the
value of the local currency.

“How are you going to pay the farmers from last year whose invoices were already
submitted and it’s in RTGs,” said Hon Wadyajena.

“Unfortunately, we are not going to review anything. Farmers are being paid as per
the amount agreed as per the date of delivery of the grain to the GMB.

“The ideal obviously would have been to pay on the official rate on the date of
payment but I also wanted to point out that the official if you have noticed, it jumps
maybe 10 points or so as compared to those rates on the parallel market,” said Guta.

Honorable David Tekeshe said it was not fair for farmers to wait for several months
for their payments which would have lost value.

“The money that you are giving the farmers now as part payment for last year is
hilarious. The money has already lost value and I for-see many farmers opting for
selling their produce on the parallel market,” he said.

“My word of advice to my GMB fellows; farming is a business and should be treated
as such. It does not make sense that farmers have to wait for ages for their money
and at the end of the day they get peanuts.

“As a result, many farmers are unable to afford the inputs they need to grow their
crops and maintain their farms which is wrong,” said Honorable Tekeshe.

Related Stories

Birdlife partners with local communities to protect vultures

How Zimbabwe’s human wildlife conflict kills both ways

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You cannot copy content of this page