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October 17, 2010

Zimbabwe's wheat output declines further

by Owen Gagare

Farmers’ organisations now expect Zimbabwe’s wheat output to plunge to an all-time low of 8 000 tonnes instead of just over 10 000 tonnes initially projected, citing electricity shortages and loss of combine harvesters to theft.

The country, which consumes around 250 000 tonnes of wheat a year, had set a cropping target of 70 000 hectares this year, but managed just 7 000 hectares.

This means that Zimbabwe will need to import the bulk of its wheat requirements.

The vice-president of the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union, Berean Mukwende, said the country’s wheat programme had virtually collapsed hence the low yield.

“The wheat programme is a big joke,” he said. “I doubt if we will be able to get 10 000 tonnes of wheat this year. Besides, the quality of the wheat that is available is of very low. We will have to rely on imports because I think we will only get about 8 000 tonnes.”

At its peak, the country produced 365 000 tonnes of wheat.

In 2001, production tumbled to 314 000 tonnes. There has been a steady decline since then.

Mukwende said the major problem which affected the winter wheat programme was the unavailability of electricity. He said most farmers had failed to irrigate their fields as it was uneconomic to irrigate using diesel-powered generators.

Commercial Farmers’ Union crops manger Ross Taylor said the poor yields stemmed from numerous factors.

“One of the reasons for decline is that large-scale producers in the past have lost their land; the second reason is the erratic supply of electricity, making it difficult to irrigate. The high cost of finance has also played a part,” he said.

The projected harvest could go down further as there are fears that the rains may come before some of the crop is harvested, due to an acute shortage of combine harvesters.

It has emerged that combine harvesters are nowhere to be seen with those which were owned by the District Development Fund (DDF) having been parcelled out to unknown individuals, while farmers who received implements under the government’s agricultural mechanisation programme were refusing to assist other farmers.

“The tragedy is that although the crop is insignificant, it is still in danger of being affected by the rain because there are no combine harvesters. As a union, we went to DDF to find out what happened to the combine harvesters and we were told there were given to certain individuals,” said Mukwende. “We asked to be given the names of the beneficiaries, but they did not have a list. Most of the individuals who got combine harvesters during the mechanisation programme don’t want to assist other farmers because the implements are their personal property. Some of the beneficiaries are not even farmers,” he said.


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