UNITED States ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols has chided government for failing to address rampant corruption in the agriculture sector which has undermined food security.
Nichols made the remarks in the wake of recent revelations that the current maize meal shortages were being worsened by widespread corruption at Grain Marketing Board (GMB) where some officials are allegedly involved in diverting grain to countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
“The allegations are very serious that subsidised grains are being diverted from the people who need it to the profit of small groups of individuals in this country and that’s why market-based policies, around cultivation of grains and the agriculture sector broadly, are crucial for value to the people of Zimbabwe,” said the American ambassador.
He said the yields in the country’s agricultural sector were not consistent with the huge investments the government has made in the sector.
“The amount of money that government spends on agriculture has gone up for five years but yields have gone down for five years so clearly something is out of work.
“And when you see that some people are taking mealie meal across borders to neighbouring countries, that you can’t find it in formal supermarkets but you find it in Mbare and Chitungwiza market, then you know that diversion is going on. What we saw yesterday (in Parliament) just confirmed what we knew in our hearts was going on.
“There is need to change those policies and move to market place-based policies which will deliver results for the people of Zimbabwe and value for their dollar,” Nichols said.
The diversion of mealie meal from the formal market, in a country where over eight million are in need of food assistance, has forced millions of hungry Zimbabweans to turn to the black market where the staple is highly priced.
“In my travels around the country, I have learned from rural Zimbabweans about how they are spending significantly more on food, while eating less in quantity and quality than last year.
“This is particularly worrisome given the already low levels of dietary diversity and high levels of stunting that we know exist in Zimbabwe.
“In order to end the cycle of privation, the government of Zimbabwe must implement a market-based agriculture policy, fully liberalise the trade of grains and pulses, pay local farmers on par with imported grain costs, put idle farmland on the market, speed resolution of claims owed to commercial farmers and transition from Vulnerable Inputs Support Scheme to more transparent supper to small holder farmers,” Nichols said.
Meanwhile, Nichols has urged government to speed up the payment of compensation to victims of the post-2018 elections violence in line with the Kgalema Motlanthe Commission of Inquiry.
“We have previously encouraged the government of Zimbabwe to fulfil its commitment to implement the Montlante Commission recommendations which include the payment of compensation to victims.
“The overall pace of reform is very important to the future of Zimbabwe. We hope that the government will move forward in that direction as soon as possible,” he said.
While Washington’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee has called for a review of the sanctions regime on Zimbabwe, Nichols said “at the appropriate time” there will be “action to maintain US policy and goals of encouraging reform, respect for human rights and fighting corruption”.