BY FIDELITY MHLANGA
THE 2021 wheat output targets could be affected by uncontrolled veldfires across provinces, which came after a Quelea bird plague hit farms, farmers said this week.
They said problems affecting wheat farmers had been compounded by heavy rains received in the past week, which coincided with the onset of the harvesting period.
Cabinet last month said it expects 298 961 metric tonnes (MT) of wheat this season, against the national requirement of 360 000 MT.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president Shadreck Makombe confirmed this week that veld fires had been wreaking havoc in wheat farms.
“Veld fires has been a menace not only to wheat but to all agricultural crops,” Makombe told businessdigest.
“This is so disheartening if you look at the expectation of the farmers. Some farmers are traumatised. There is little we can do other than to conscientise farmers. We should have (stiffer) sentences for those who start these fires,” he said.
“Veld fires are causing a lot of damage and we continuously appeal to all Zimbabweans to be law abiding and to understand the effects of their actions, especially on farmers who would have lost huge quantities of their crop. Even if they would have been insured, it is quite a challenge that you would recover your original position considering the fluctuations, which are in our economy.”
Makombe said most farmers who planted early had started harvesting in mid–September.
“To an extent, we have sufficient combine harvesters because most of our wheat was planted at different times. We are encouraging farmers who have wheat, which has ripened to harvest it before the onset of the rains; otherwise it will be affected by the rain. Our assessment in terms of the effects of Quelea birds and veld fires and other factors is being considered, we are still assessing the impact,” he said.
Economist Victor Bhoroma said the consequences of veld fires will lead to reduced output and force Zimbabwe to import wheat.
“If we have fire outbreaks and Quelea birds, that will affect crop production and the import component will increase. As such we will need a lot of foreign currency in terms of procuring wheat to meet domestic and industrial needs,” Bhoroma said.
After Quelea birds started causing chaos last month, Cabinet approved that a Migratory Pest Control Unit be established as a department in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement to ensure surveillance of all important pests.The Government earlier this year outlined an ambitious plan to end wheat imports within two years after rolling out a strategy to harvest 340 000 tonnes of the crop this year, up from 165 000 tonnes achieved last year.
Wheat output has decreased with figures showing that in 2017, farmers produced 186 200 tonnes, which dropped to 160 600 in 2018 before falling to about 100 000 tonnes in 2019.