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July 30, 2008

Rising inputs prices hurt Swazi maize farmers

Swazi farmers are still failing to meet the maize quota required by the National Maize Corporation (NMC) to sustain local markets.

NMC Technical Manager Sipho Dlamini said farmers were currently able to produce about 8 000 tonnes of maize and yet the corporation needs over 40 000 tonnes of maize per year to sustain local markets. He observed that the current shortfall in maize production emanates from the ever increasing farm input prices, with both smallholder and commercial farmers being unable to bear the brunt.

“The sudden increase in farm input prices has really devastated our local farmers as they can no longer afford to produce maize in the manner they did before. The ever escalating farm input prices coupled with the ravaging drought have proven to be major challenges for maize farmers and contingency plans have to be devised to deal with such issues,” he said.

The erratic rainfalls currently experienced in the country have also immensely contributed to the ever dwindling local maize production in the country.

Dlamini said the effect of all this was that the country was now forced to import over 70% of all the required maize from South Africa. This also means that local consumers suffer a double blow as maize prices were projected to double as a result of the ever escalating food and commodity prices.

The technical manager said despite the evident hardships faced by local farmers, the corporation’s crusade of encouraging local farmers to increase supply of maize still continues. He said this was because local farmers have the potential to outdo their South African counterparts in terms of maize supply.

“The corporation is a readily available market for maize farmers, unlike with other crops where the markets are there, but their certainty is unpredictable,” he said. Dlamini observed that local farmers do indeed exude the motivation and skills to reach the target quota, but as it stands they did not have the means to do so.

A prolonged dry spell and high temperatures ravaged Swaziland’s maize crop in recent years, resulting in the lowest annual harvest on record, worsening the chronic food insecurity in the country. The chronic food insecurity persists throughout the country owing to declining income-earning opportunities and remittances, high levels of unemployment and the impact of HIV and AIDS.

The country requires international assistance to feed approximately 25% of its most vulnerable people, including orphans, child-headed households, households affected by HIV and AIDS as well as tuberculosis and children needing school feeding. Maize production in Swaziland has been on a steady decline for the past decade. Until 2000, Swaziland was in a normal agricultural season harvesting more than 100 000 tonnes of maize.

However, erratic weather, the devastating impact of HIV and AIDS as well as a decline in the use of improved agricultural practices and inputs were among the factors contributing to this decline.

Swazi Observer

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