ZIMBABWE might not meet its grain and cereal production targets this season due to late land preparations and a shortage of inputs, agricultural experts said this week.
Maize and wheat production is expected to fall from last yearâ€™s levels while there will be a marked improvement in small grains yield.
The experts said Zimbabwe should put contingency measures in place to import food from its regional producers.
The cropping season, the experts said, was headed for an all-time low in productivity in grain and cereals despite numerous agro-based interventions to boost the sector.
Shortages of seed, fertilisers, fuel and herbicides that characterised the 2008/9 cropping season could lead to a decline in agricultural output despite relatively favourable rainfall.
The shortages have been a major characteristic of the agricultural sector in the past two years owing to price controls that paralysed the manufacturing sector and some retailers.
Experts have predicted low production of the staple maize which will put a severe strain on the fiscus due to grain imports. Official projections are yet to be released.
Projections made by the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), an organisation that represents mainly white commercial farmers, show a downward trend in grain and cereal production.
Maize, according to the CFU, will drop to 397 000 tonnes this season from 417 000 tonnes last year. This figure represents a fraction of the estimated two million metric tonnes required annually for national
consumption and an estimated 70% decline in productivity since the agrarian â€œreformsâ€ began in 2000.
Zimbabwe is also likely to continue importing wheat from the region due to an anticipated cereal output of 18 000 tonnes compared to 314 000 tonnes recorded in 2001.
The CFU however projected that small grain output for crops such as sorghum could jump to over 113 000 tonnes on the back of governmentâ€™s appeal to farmers to grow drought-resistant crops.Â Â
Production of the foreign currency earning flue-cured tobacco, the CFU projected, will drop to 39,7 tonnes from 48,7 tonnes produced last season.
Experts have attributed the diminishing productivity of maize to poor policies, shortages of inputs and the eviction of white commercial farmers. The Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) predicts a slight surge in small grain production compared to the previous season.
ZFU president Silas Hungwe recently told the Zimbabwe Independent that farmers would have a better yield although he could not give figures.
Chairman of the National Resource Mobilisation and Implementation Committee logistics sub-committee, Brigadier-General Douglas Nyikayaramba, this week told the Independent that shortages of inputs could reduce the projected yield.
Nyikayaramba is tasked with spearheading the â€œChampion Farmerâ€ exercise which targeted 500 000 hectares of land for the production of 2,5 million tonnes of maize.
Government, according to Nyikayaramba, procured 94 000 litres of paraquat herbicide against 500 000 litres that were required. A shortfall of 310 000 litres of Lasso – an emulsifiable concentrate residual herbicide registered for maize, groundnuts, soya beans and sunflower – was also recorded by the taskforce.
These shortages, Nyikayaramba said, could affect medium to high-density farmers with 10 hectares or more.
â€œThere are signs of nitrogen deficiency for crops that did not receive fertiliser. The lack of ammonium nitrate is going to reduce productivity,â€ Nyikayaramba said.
â€œIt would be misleading at this stage to give the actual forecasts but output per hectare could drop from five tonnes to one tonne in some areas that did not receive adequate fertilisers.â€
Government currently has three groups of farming programmes which it hopes would produce adequate food supplies â€” the Champion Farmer, disadvantaged rural farmers and the donor-driven â€œself financing exerciseâ€.
Secretary for Lands and Agriculture in the Arthur Mutambara-led MDC, Renson Gasela, said the country could produce 600 000 tonnes of maize this season.
â€œAn excellent small crop is expected for a few farmers who accessed fertilisers,â€ Gasela predicted.
â€œAt least 600 000 tonnes will be produced against two million required to meet annual national consumption.â€
Joseph Made, Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation minister, declined to â€œspeculateâ€ on the projections until a government assessment is carried out.
â€œI will not speculate, but government will carry out a comprehensive second crop assessment,â€ Made said.
Turning to the impact of liberalisation of grain marketing on strategic grain reserves, Made said: â€œThis decision (to make the GMB the buyer of last resort) will not affect strategic grain reserves because exports are not allowed under this arrangement.â€
Under the liberalised framework announced in the February Monetary Policy Statement, the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) must act as the buyer of last resort, providing farmers with a â€œfall backâ€ marketing alternative.
â€œFor the purpose of strategic reserves, the GMB should leverage on its own internally generated revenues (for buying grain), as well as the limited financial resources as would be made available from the fiscus.
Read the statement announced by Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono,â€ he said. â€œZimbabweâ€™s food security situation would remain precarious if our farmers continue to face protracted delays in getting their payments for deliveries made to the GMB.â€
Gasela, a former GMB boss, however said governmentâ€™s decision to liberalise the marketing of maize and wheat could elbow out the parastatal as a competitive miller due to insufficient funding.
Meanwhile, the South African government has defended the decision to support Zimbabweâ€™s agriculture under the R300 million input package that was availed last year.
This decision follows an audit by a regional taskforce to assess the distribution exercise that was carried out by aid agencies and churches.
â€œCabinet was pleased to note that all reports indicated that the aid was distributed in full compliance of the Sadc framework,â€ the South African government said last week.
â€œAn interdepartmental task team that visited Zimbabwe over the past two weeks has also found that there was compliance with the Sadc framework. We are therefore satisfied that the South African aid was received by the targeted ordinary Zimbabweans.â€
BY BERNARD MPOFU