Blessing Zulu/Augustine Mukaro
BREAD shortages are set to worsen next year as the country’s winter wheat production falters while the hectarage under crop has been drastically reduced. <
The Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) has forecast this year’s winter crop production at around 25% of average annual planting because of continued vandalism and looting of equipment on farms.
Commercial farmers used to put between 65 000 and 80 000 hectares of land under winter crop, producing up to 280 000 tonnes of wheat.
“Existing irrigation schemes for winter cereals were 65 000 hectares but these have been looted and damaged and we estimate that only 15 000 hectares are still operational,” the CFU said.
“As poverty and unemployment increase, theft of assets increases, making it difficult for farmers to continue their operations,” the CFU said.
Local demand of about 400 000-500 000 tonnes used to be met through imports of gristing wheat used to blend the local product to get high quality flour.
“New farmers are not achieving desired production levels due to lack of knowledge, skills and finance. They do not have the capacity to match production levels of displaced commercial farmers,” said the CFU.
Winter crops are normally planted from the beginning of May through to mid-June every year.
“The planting period has lapsed and any planting now will be a late crop whose yield would be highly compromised,” the CFU said.
The Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) said the number of their members entering winter crop production had increased since the beginning of the land reform programme.
“Though we are in the process of compiling data on the number of farmers planting wheat this year, there is clear evidence that the hectarage has increased,” said an official at the ZFU.
Agricultural analysts said the increase in hectarage planted by new farmers would not make much difference to the food security requirement because of the small portions they plant.
“ZFU members, though many, grow very little wheat, mostly for household consumption,” an analyst said.
“The main drawback faced by subsistence farmers is lack of equipment, finance and skills to produce for commercial purposes.”
The majority of the crop is irrigated using overhead sprinkler systems, though a small amount is irrigated using flood, and centre-pivots. Major production areas are along the major water courses in the Mashonaland, Makonde and mid-Save areas.