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June 12, 2011

Zimbabwe plants less than 10% of wheat target

by Elita Chikwati

Zimbabwe should brace for massive wheat imports to meet the looming deficit as less than 5 000 hectares have been put under the crop so far. This is less than 10 percent of the targeted 60 000 hectares for the 2011 wheat cropping season.

The wheat-planting deadline is May 15 and according to agronomists, a farmer loses 50 kilogrammes of wheat per hectare for every day delayed in planting.

Zimbabwe Farmers Union second vice-president Mr Berean Mukwende said, "A number of farmers are failing to produce wheat because of the high risk associated with the crop. Most farmers do not have cash to buy inputs with others waiting to get their cash from the Grain Marketing Board. "Financial institutions have not been of much help as they still insist on collateral and high interest rates which many farmers cannot afford," he said.

In a bid to increase profits, some farmers have shifted to barley production as they are guaranteed of timely inputs and a better market.

Mr Mukwende said most farmers this season were left with no option but to get money from money markets, which is expensive and increases production costs.

"Some farmers have failed to raise money to buy subsidised inputs from the GMB," he said. GMB is selling the subsidised fertilisers at US$15 per 50 kilogramme bag while the wheat seed price is US$0,50c per kg.

On the other hand, GMB has indicated that it has wheat inputs at its several depots but the uptake has been very low despite the subsidised prices. GMB general manager Mr Albert Mandizha said the parastatal had started selling inputs for the 2011 wheat season.

"As at May 26 2011, 98 percent of wheat seed had been received of which 19 percent had been disbursed to farmers, 93 percent of compound D had been received with 27 percent distributed to farmers and 45 percent of Ammonium Nitrate had been received at the GMB depots and 22 percent was taken up by farmers," Mr Mandizha said.

GMB advised all farmers that have produced and delivered wheat to its depots in the previous years to take advantage of the Government facility and enhance their chances of improving their yields by planting early.

To benefit from this scheme, farmers should provide proof of identity, wheat delivery receipts, and Zesa and Zinwa bills as proof that they are bona fide wheat farmers.
Farmers without a track record of growing wheat can only benefit from this scheme after being cleared by Agritex.

Wheat production has been on the downfall for many years and each year the situation worsens.
In the 1990s wheat production suffered as a result of drought and shortage of irrigation water.

In 1996, however, wheat production stood at 280 000 tonnes. Nowadays farmers are having problems irrigating their crop due to intermittent power cuts.
Despite the assurances from Zesa Holdings for minimum interruption supply of electricity, farmers continued to experience power cuts, making it difficult for them to complete their irrigation cycles.

Mr Mukwende said Zesa promises were empty and the situation worsens during the planting period.
"Sometimes the power supply improves in July but it will be too late for plant recovery.

This year, the Meteorological Services Department predicted a longer winter but Mr Mukwende said farmers did not translate this to an increase in production. "Wheat production is not only based on temperatures but also the length of the day," he said.

Zimbabwe requires about 450 000 tonnes for consumption and is becoming a net importer.

The Herald

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