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    Power utility switches off defaulting farmers


    August 1, 2022 - Business Weekly

     

      ZESA has started switching off farmers across the country over $1 billion it is owed by the farming community, a development likely to compromise yields especially for winter wheat growers.

      This winter season close to 80 000 hectares have been planted under winter wheat up from 66 435 ha last year from which an estimated yield of 180 000 tonnes was realised.

      Over the years, Zimbabwe, whose national requirement stands at 360 000 tonnes of wheat annually, has been relying on imports to cover the deficit, mainly from countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Argentina and Brazil.

      In an interview, the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union (ZCFU) president, Dr Shadreck Makombe, bemoaned the latest move by the country's power utility through its subsidiary, the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC).

      'Farmers now experience quite some challenges and some are complaining of being switched off because there was an understanding that those who are owing, a stop order mechanism can be done so that when they deliver their wheat to GMB (Grain Marketing Board) Zesa can thus recoup their dues.

      'And we thought there was an understanding in that regard. In some areas now it's really a challenge because power supply is quite erratic as they are being switched off.

      'So, we are appealing to Zesa to bear with us. There are some who are owing and we know it shouldn't be like that but circumstances differ. But if somebody has got the wheat and then you switch off, how do you expect that person to pay and by doing so, they are even destroying the farmer,' he said.

      Wheat is a major raw material in the baking industry and in Zimbabwe the cereal is grown in winter relying on irrigation to water the crop.

      Although Dr Makombe would not be drawn into stating the congregated figure the farmers were owing Zesa, ZETDC acting chief executive officer Engineer Howard Choga, in a separate interview said the farmers were owing over $1 billion.

      Dr Makombe said ZCFU was disputing the electricity bill on account that some farmers were being asked to pay legacy debts left by some previous farmers who occupied the farms.

      'We are querying that amount because you would find some of the money is not necessarily of the current farmers.

      'So, based on the argument that some farmers who were sitting on these farms were owing, it becomes a legacy debt.

      'We are saying Zesa should also spruce up their debt because the figure here can be big but we were saying if you go farmer by farmer, it may not be like that.

      'And of course, notwithstanding the fact, we are encouraging our farmers to pay their bills because if we don't pay energy, it's not only an enabler but a major key player in our business,' he said.

      Of late, the country's power supply situation has worsened largely on the back of constant breakdowns mainly at Zimbabwe's biggest thermal power plant, Hwange Power Station and the three small thermal power plants.

      Speaking after a Cabinet meeting last week, Energy and Power Development Minister Zhemu Soda said problems at Hwange Power Station and the small Harare thermal power plant have been corrected and negotiations are on course for the importation of more electricity as a short-term measure to lessen the impact of the outages while the country awaits for the results of medium to long-term projects.

      Dr Makombe said load shedding should not hit hard on wheat farmers.

      'Even if the load shedding is going to be there, may you inform those farmers because you know wheat needs a lot of watering, so given the situation we are appealing to Zesa to be sensitive to wheat farmers at this point in time.

      'We are saying this because we have got farmers that have been affected in irrigation cycles and if you have been affected there is no way you can cover up because wheat goes by stages.

      'If you have missed up to three or five cycles of irrigation, there is no way you can cover up, it means the yield is going to go down.

      Dr Makombe said the wheat crop was at different stages of growth across the country because the farmers planted early while others late.

      'But the early planted wheat is now at milking stage, the stages vary depending on when you did put your wheat down,' he said.

      Responding to issues raised by ZCFU, Eng Choga said: 'Some may dispute some may not but the truth is that they owe. If there are any disputes in terms of the figures, we resolve them.

      'It's a normal thing to happen under the circumstances. So, it's not like the farmers' union can say the figure is not correct because each farmer has got own account and when they are subject to any disconnection it's farmer per farmer.'

      'I may not have the figures off hand how much the farmers owe, but they owe beyond a billion dollars and l must also say that we have restored the farmers for the purposes to do with their activities.'

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