Farmers Lose Out in Illicit Food Trade
Villagers trade their crops for scarce commodities which black-marketeers have bought up in the towns.
By Hativagone Mushonga in Harare and Chitomborwizi (AR No. 114, 30-May-07)The crowd has been queuing outside a supermarket since five in the morning, after hearing there is sugar on the shelves. By ten in the morning, the day is growing hotter and the crowd is becoming increasingly restless.
To their surprise, they see a uniformed policeman emerge from the back door of the supermarket, carrying two large boxes filled with packs of sugar. For a few seconds there is stunned silence, and then the crowd pounces on the policeman. As they pull at his uniform and tear the boxes apart, he runs for his life.
The incident, which happened on May 19in the small farming town of Marondera, 70 kilometres east of Harare, reflects a growing mood of anger not only at the basic shortage of food, but also that when it does arrive, it is spirited away by black marketeers – often regime insiders or others with good connections – and resold at many times the price.
Many of the people queuing up in towns across Zimbabwe have come in from surrounding rural areas, where the local shops are bare with no deliveries for weeks on end. ...
Although much of Zimbabwe experienced a drought over the growing season, some areas such as Mashonaland saw reasonable yields of maize and soya beans. That opened up opportunities for speculators to move in and procure the crop in exchange for the deficit goods they had bought up and stockpiled.
A visit to Chitomborwizi, 120 kilometres from Harare, revealed the extent of the practice. Villagers there are exchanging their hard-won maize with whatever basic commodities are offered, even though these come at a huge premium.
The skewed pricing means a bar of soap will buy 10 kilograms of shelled maize, while a 75 centilitre bottle of cooking oil - or one of the many two kilogram packs of sugar the Marondera policeman was carrying –are worth about 50 kg of maize.
The next stage is to turn the cereals into cash by selling it to the state purchasing agency, the GMB, once again at a huge mark-up. The GMB is desperate to buy whatever grain it can in a drought year.
“It is unfortunate that the villagers who worked so hard in a very difficult environment in a drought year are going to be the end losers,” IWPR was told by one “barter trader” or black marketeer who had come from Harare to buy crops in Chitomborwizi. “But what can I do if such an opportunity presents itself to me? As we say in our language, for a beast to be fat it must eat another beast.