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Wheat shortfall looms

Augustine Mukaro

ANOTHER serious wheat shortfall looms this year as the area put under the winter crop continues to shrink.

, sans-serif”>In the current season an estimated 60% of between 65 000 and 85 000 hectares that are normally put under irrigated winter wheat has been planted.

Information to hand shows that the few remaining white commercial farmers across the country planted around 15 000 hectares and newly-resettled farmers about 25 000 hectares.

Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union (ZCFU) past president Thomas Nherera said an estimated 40 000 hectares had been put under winter crop with planting coming to an end now.

“The area planted is expected to yield around 270 000 tonnes and government will have to import to fill the shortfall. Above all, there will be a need to also import 80 000 tonnes of hard wheat to mix with the local product,” Nherera said.

Zimbabwe has an annual wheat consumption of 400 000 tonnes excluding the hard wheat which has always been imported.

Agricultural experts said wheat production this year was projected to hit an all-time low due to delays in the planting which might affect both output and quality.

“Planting of the wheat only started two weeks after the official planting date and is still continuing a month later,” an expert said.

“The late planted crop is likely to encroach into the rainy season before it matures and that will affect quality.”

Winter wheat planting started late this year because of Grain Marketing Board delays in releasing seeds and other inputs.

Experts said production would be adversely affected by lack of irrigation equipment which was vandalised in the course of government’s fast track land reform programme.

“Winter wheat is an all-out irrigation crop, so under the prevailing conditions it’s not likely to yield much,” another agricultural expect said. Under optimum conditions with the use of modern irrigation facilities a maximum six tonnes of wheat can be produced per hectare.

The experts said Zimbabwe was estimated to have irrigation equipment covering only 18 000 hectares operational, down from the 85 000 hectares that could be irrigated before the inception of the land reform programme.

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