DEBT RIDDEN FARMERS ABANDON SUGAR CANE FIELDS
Some sugarcane farmers here have reportedly abandoned their fields after failing to settle debts with various service providers and input suppliers, with debts accrued reaching as much as $100 million.
The debts date back to 2009 when new farmers settled on the sugarcane plantations. Those owed include Zimbabwe National Water Authority, Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, banks and sugarcane miller Tongaat Hulett Zimbabwe (THZ).
The organisations are battling to recover their dues, which are incurring interests. According to sources, the farmers’ level of indebtedness has prompted them to divert their sugarcane bundles as they evade garnishes.
“We are in debt as we borrowed from banks, micro finance institutions and Tongaat, but the greater chunk of this money was not invested in the fields,” said one of the farmers.
“Zimra then started garnishing us and we failed to pay workers, other service providers and our farming collapsed. Some have abandoned their fields, while others are diverting their cane bundles to evade deductions from Tongaat. We continue to receive inputs allocations from Tongaat which we will then sell cheaply on the black-market, leaving us with serious losses.”
Former THZ agricultural director Mr Farai Musikavanhu said urgent interventions were required towards restoring maximum operation capacity of the sugar cane mills in Chiredzi.
“Many farmers got the land with limited technical know-how and financial discipline which are prerequisites in this long season perennial crop business,” he said. He said THZ mills should operate at full throttle for the company to realise maximum benefits. Tongaat has an installed capacity which is very expensive to run sub optimally,” said Mr Musikavanhu.
He said the levels of indebtedness which was affecting most farmers now required a collective approach which involves Government, financial institutions and the miller.
“Government too has a vested interest in seeing major turnaround in this strategic industry. Therefore, there is need for Government, the miller and financiers to converge in a structured command type programme that seeks to jump-start the industry through major plough-out and replanting programme with the crop production over two to three seasons being closely monitored and supervised with revenue going into a debt clearing facility,” said Mr Musikavanhu.
Mr Musikavanhu said most of the farmers were beneficiaries of the land reform programme and would be ease to include in a Command Agriculture set-up. He proposed that the multiple farmer associations which continue to sprout in Chiredzi should be disbanded.
“The farmers have to regroup into one strong association focusing primarily on ensuring a win-win situation for all the players in the industry which are the farmers, millers, banks and Government through taxes,” he said.
According to the Zimbabwe Sugar Association Experimental Station (ZSA) journal, the sugar industry produced 500 000 tonnes of sugar in 2000 and 2001, with the record being set in 2002 when 600 000 tonnes were produced. The industry is now producing around 450 000 tonnes.