Winter wheat on course for smallest ever crop

Winter wheat on course for smallest ever crop
Bulawayo - Political violence, routine power cuts and fertiliser shortages
are all but putting paid to any chance of Zimbabwe harvesting a winter wheat
crop that will ease its chronic food shortages.

Once the bread basket of
southern Africa, Zimbabwe has become dependent on donor food in a few short
years. A recent UN report estimates that by early 2009 more than 5 million
of Zimbabwe’s estimated 12 million people will require food assistance, with
the winter wheat harvest unlikely to make any significant difference. One of
the few remaining white farmers in the prime Nyamandlovu farming area, in
Matabeleland North Province, who declined to be identified, told IRIN: “The
crop that I planted was severely damaged after war veterans ordered my
workers off the land as they campaigned for President [Robert] Mugabe in the
June presidential elections, and the little that survived is still facing
many challenges, which include persistent power cuts and shortages of
In 2000 Mugabe’s Zanu PF government launched the fast-track land reform
programme, expropriating, often violently, nearly 4,500 white-owned farms to
be distributed amongst landless blacks. The government failed to provide
agricultural inputs to the new farmers, while in other cases the farms were
handed out to government ministers, party members and army and intelligence
officers, who often left their land fallow. The white farmer, who planted 60
hectares of wheat and 10 hectares of barley, said outside events disrupted
agricultural planning in the period leading up to the second round of
presidential voting on 27 June. “Power cuts are becoming frequent and as a
result the load-shedding schedule that the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply
Authority (ZESA) had availed is not being followed … on most days we get
electricity during the night and it is impossible to do any meaningful
irrigation at that time,” he said.
“Most of the wheat and maize I planted has died off, and I will realise far
less than what I was supposed to get if electricity was supplied
continuously,” the farmer said. “Close to half of the wheat I planted is
damaged and the one [field] I am tending now is of poor quality due to the
water shortage, and I have cancelled any future plans of growing any winter
crop,” he said. “If I had not got any interruptions on the farm I would have
put over 100 hectares under irrigation, but the country’s politics is
affecting current production.” It is a tale repeated across some of the
country’s prime agricultural areas. The white farmer’s neighbour, a
beneficiary of Mugabe’s land redistribution, who declined to be identified,
told IRIN that his attempt to farm winter wheat has been a disaster. “This
is my first winter wheat crop, but most of it has been destroyed because I
have not been able to draw enough water to irrigate the crop, and the power
outages have been very frequent of late … the harvest I will get will be
far below my expectations,” the new farmer said.
The new farmer planted 40 hectares of wheat, but said he would be lucky to
harvest more than five metric tonnes; in future he would not plant crops
that required irrigation and would rely on seasonal rainfall if he grew any
crops during winter. “The crop was damaged at an early stage, as we used to
have power for about three days a week, but now electricity supplies are
being cut almost daily and this is disturbing irrigation cycles … most of
the wheat is now facing problems,” he said. The government estimates that
about 8,900 hectares of winter wheat was planted, or 13 percent of the area
required to produce the more than 400,000 metric tonnes the country needs to
meet its annual requirement. Agriculture Minister Rugare Gumbo was reported
as saying, “The projected wheat winter crop is not good, but we have learnt
a lesson and already we are now preparing for the summer crop. “We are
making sure that seed companies are getting seed and fertiliser ready for
the season, and already we have imported 30,000 tonnes of seed for the
2008/09 season. The country needs 50,000 tonnes [of seed] for planting two
million hectares of maize and the rest will be supplied by local
manufacturers,” Gumbo said.
Renson Gasela, former chief executive officer of the state controlled Grain
Marketing Board (GMB), said Zimbabwe would probably produce about a fifth of
its consumption needs. “Zimbabwe requires 400,000 tonnes of wheat per annum
but this year we will hardly get 80,000 tonnes, and the reasons are several:
power shortages, and a serious shortage of Compound D fertiliser, which was
nowhere to be seen in the country, and as a result many farmers reduced the
amount of land they … [planted],” he said. “We will get the smallest crop
of wheat that has been produced in this country this year, and the only
solution to the current farming crisis is to have a political settlement
that will address the current problems … anything else is just a stopgap
measure,” Gasela said. The President of the Zimbabwe Indigenous Commercial
Farmers Union (ZICFU), Wilson Nyabonda, said ZESA was to blame for the
disastrous crop. “Farmers will not get any meaningful wheat harvest this
year because of electricity shortages, and most of the wheat died due to
moisture stress, so there is not much to talk about.”

Post published in: News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *