FARMERS’ organisations must be feeling vindicated after Agriculture ministry permanent secretary Ngoni Masoka last year turned a deaf ear to their warnings of a maize deficit.
Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) vice-president Charles Taffs told government officials and delegates at an agriculture conference last year that farmers were unprepared and not equipped for the season. Masoka dismissed the warning as mere talk.
And Farmers Development Trust chief executive officer Lovegot Tendengu did not help the situation either. He backed Masoka’s claims.
Although government agrees now that it could have set the bar a bit high in terms of output, the state is still to revise its projections downwards saying a nationwide crop assessment would soon be underway.
This is not the first time government has blundered. A few years back, then Agriculture minister Joseph Made flew around the country in a helicopter and announced a “bumper harvest.”
Made was wrong. Now Masoka faces the same fate come harvesting time.
Deon Theron, the president of the CFU, which represents the remaining white farmers, this week said: “All indications are that this season will be a total disaster. We will be very lucky if we get more than 500 000 tonnes.
“We need about 1,8 million tonnes of maize, so over a million tonnes will have to be made up by imports.”
Theron said apart from poor rains, which affected much of the late-planted crop, poor preparations and continued disturbances on white commercial farms had also contributed to another poor season.
“We predicted the dry conditions affecting the crop now and advised farmers to plant early, but a lot of our farmers who were going to put seed in the ground early were being harassed,” he said. “Producing adequate food for ourselves is going to be a problem as long as we don’t find a way forward and resolve the disputes on the farms for the benefit of the country.”
Also, the Metrological Services Department’s weather forecasts made CFU’s projections irrelevant. While CFU urged farmers to plant early, the metrological department forecast above average rains for the 2009/10 agricultural season.
Farmers may be to blame too for trusting the weather people given the outdated technology the department is stuck with.
The Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union (ZCFU), which represents the majority of resettled black farmers, also gave a grim assessment of the current agricultural season.
ZCFU president William Nyabonda told the state media recently that: “We are likely to have a food deficit and we are now appealing to the government and other stakeholders to start preparing to deal with the food deficit. It is time for the government to start crafting a budget to source additional grain from neighbouring countries.”
Finance minister Tendai Biti has since said he was working on a budget to import food and the cabinet has adopted matigatory strategies to counter effects of the imminent drought.
Annually, Zimbabwe needs 2,2 million tonnes of cereals, according to Masoka. Of the 2,2 million tonnes, 1,8 million tonnes are consumed by Zimbabweans while the rest goes to stock feeds.
Over the years, Zimbabwe has been relying on food imports to cover food deficits.
Taffs last year argued that Zimbabwe was headed for another farming disaster saying resources –– mainly inputs –– were not yet in place.
He said: “The rains are upon us and we are still talking about agricultural finance. I have been all over the country and we are in an unprepared state. We need to be real with ourselves. We will have a deficit and we need to be prepared for that.”
Masoka then argued that in the prior season, Zimbabwe had received R300 million in December 2008 and only received inputs on Christmas eve but output was reasonable.
“Last year we were assisted by South Africa with R300 million in December (2008). We needed seeds inputs and fertilisers. We are more prepared this year (2009) than we were last year. We only got the money on 20 December last year and got the green light to disburse the money on Christmas Eve and we did not go wrong,” Masoka said then.
Masoka’s argument was premised on the fact that Zimbabwe had got funding from South Africa late but still managed to have improved food for the country in the 2008-9 season.
Zimbabwe embarked on a chaotic land re-distribution exercise in 2000 meant to benefit landless blacks but the programme ended up largely benefiting Zanu PF officials amid accusations that many party chiefs own more than one farm.