THE 2007/8 agricultural season publicised as “the mother of all agricultural seasons” is set to be a major failure if government does not urgently provi
de fertiliser to save waterlogged crops due to torrential rains in December.
A drive along the Harare-Masvingo highway revealed a sorry state of crops submerged in pools of water caused by incessant rains across the country.
I travelled to Gutu district in Masvingo, my home area, over the festive season. I used the opportunity to assess the situation on the farms during the so-called mother of all agricultural seasons. Along the 300-kilometre highway I saw only one maize field meaningfully taken care of. That was just after Beatrice. The rest were yellowing little patches in flooded fields.
The situation in Gutu was worse. Water has started seeping from underground, making the fields inaccessible but still the government is chanting that the season will be the mother of all agricultural seasons.
Farmers had planted an estimated 40% of the area normally put under crops because of the shortages of seed and draught power and now the rains have dampened prospects of a decent harvest even from those small plots.
I was curious to know the wishes of the farmers and how far the government had gone in trying to mitigate the pending disaster.
All farmers said if government could provide fertilisers the situation could reasonably improve. Agritex officers in the area said under such circumstances farmers required lots of fertiliser rich in ammonium.
“Lots of ammonium nitrate or alternatively urea is required to help the crops,” one officer said. “But the fertiliser is not available. The little found on the black market is beyond the reach of the majority of the farmers. A 50kg bag is going for up to $25 million.”
A Zanu PF central committee report presented at the party’s extraordinary congress last month exposed vast differences between what the farmers require to produce enough food and the resources made available by the government.
The report noted that serious shortages were in the fertiliser sector with local producers not in a position to fully exploit their capacity due to unviable prices, shortages of phosphates, foreign currency, coal and power.
“The fertiliser industry are prepared to produce 53 950 tonnes of compound D between October and December and 46 714 tonnes of Ammonium Nitrate (AN) between September and February 2008 subject to immediate availability of foreign currency amounting to US$12 million for spare parts and raw materials, an improvement in electricity supplies and a reviewed price,” the report said.
The country requires 720 000 tonnes of compound D and 774 000 of AN each season.
The report said government would bridge the gap through imports of fertiliser from China and South Africa but still acknowledged that there would be a huge deficit.
“From the output of the capacitated local industry, fertiliser will further reduce the deficit of compound D and top dressing to 562 302 tonnes and 633 486 tonnes respectively,” the report said.
The government has issued permits to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to engage Intshona, of South Africa, for the immediate importation of 50 000 tonnes of urea and 41 000 tonnes of compound D.
Intshona is the company that brought substandard fertiliser into the country last year resulting in the firing of the then Agriculture secretary Simon Pazvakavambwa.
Last year, Intshona supplied about 800 tonnes of the substandard fertiliser, prejudicing the country of up to US$300 000.
The report said the supply of fuel, coal and electricity remained critical.
However, farmers’ organisations said the situation on the ground puts into disarray all prospects of a quick fix to the declining agricultural sector and the economy in general.
They say government efforts to boost production would not yield any positive results under the current legislative set-up and continued farm invasions, which have created uncertainty for investors to embark on business expansions. They said the situation continues to be untenable unless farm-grabbing and farming implement seizures by top government officials at the expense of ordinary farmers, power blackouts and unavailability of inputs are addressed.
The farmers also attributed the continued decline in productivity to the uncertainty of tenure in the agricultural sector where farmers are evicted on a daily basis. Continued acquisition notices, disruptions, acts of violence on farms and lack of land-based collateral as some of the problems discouraging investors.
The chaotic land reform programme, which from inception has been condemned by international donors as unworkable and a recipe for disaster, has turned out to be just that.
Over the past six seasons production in all facets of agriculture has plummeted, dragging the economy down with it. Farmers have estimated production to have fallen by 70%, resulting in the country surviving on food handouts and grain imports to bridge food deficits.