Farm unions disagree over crop shortages

food_aid_womanHARARE - Forecasts that homegrown crops will not be enough to feed the country have led to conflicting opinions from the countrys two farmers unions over Zimbabwes need for food imports. Since 2000, Zimbabwe has become increasingly reliant on food aid, a situation the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), largely attributes to the controversial Zanu (PF) land

The redistribution of land, mainly to political cronies who have no interest in farming, was the catalyst for the 10-year recession and for turning Zimbabwe into a food importer unable to feed its own people.

CFU President, Deon Theron, said the country would have to import 800,000 tonnes to meet national demand.

Maize is being imported at between US$160 and US$180 per tonne, Theron said. Around US$136 million would be needed to meet the deficit.

On the other hand, the ZCFU, which represents mainly black farmers, claims drought and lack of inputs such as fertiliser and seed are the main reasons for crop shortages.

Addressing delegates at the ZCFU annual congress last week, the unions president, William Nyabonda, said the final maize and small grains estimate for the 2009/2010 season was 1.5 million tonnes, with maize contributing 1.2 million tonnes.

It is also estimated that approximately 300,000 metric tonnes were carried over from last season due to lack of reliable markets, Nyabonda said.

He said most analysts believed there was no real need for grain imports.

What is required is to move grain from grain surplus areas to grain deficit areas and therefore it is essential that the Grain Marketing Board buys this grain from farmers, Nyabonda said.

According to the minister of finance, Tendai Biti and the minister of agriculture, Joseph Made, Zimbabwe is expected to harvest between 1.3 and 1.4 million tonnes of maize an increase of around three per cent on last year. The country, however, needs 2.2 million tonnes of maize every year.

The United Nations last month said Zimbabwes maize production had risen by 100,000 tonnes this year. Jacopo DAmelio, a regional information co-ordinator with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, said: There is also a feeling that the food security situation is improving from what it was in 2008, when the country had probably its worst output.

This years national wheat target was set at 60,000 hectares but farmers planted only 11,000 hectares. Theron said Zimbabwe needed to import wheat worth over US$128.8 million to meet an expected shortfall of 339,000 tonnes, which could cripple operations.

Farmers, hamstrung by lack of capital, high costs of inputs and continued land ownership wrangles, expected to produce 11,000 tonnes of winter wheat planted on 3,100 hectares this year.

This was against a national annual demand of 350,000 tonnes, said Deon Theron.

We (Zimbabwe) will have to import the wheat at an import price of US$380

per tonne and this translates to US$128,820.000, given our shortfall, said Theron.

Farmers who spoke to The Zimbabwean last week said there was a mistaken belief that enough maize had been produced because of better than average rains.

Biti said agricultural production was expected to have grown this year by 18.8 per cent, compared to 14.9 per cent in 2009. This was mainly driven by tobacco, up to about 119 million kilos from 55.6 million kilos.

Horticulture production in 2010 is projected to register growth, rising to 43,000 tonnes against last years 35,000 tonnes. There is still much more investment to be undertaken before production levels rise to levels above 60,000 tonnes experienced previously, Biti said.

He said depressed prices and financing constraints in 2009 undermined cotton production, which decreased from 246,000 tonnes in 2009 to 172,000 tonnes in 2010. Sugar production during 2010 was also projected to decline below last years levels.

Relief agencies say combined donor support to small farmers accounted for up to 20 per cent of Zimbabwes maize output in the 2009/10 season.

The US Agency for International Developments famine early warning cautioned in a recent report that Zimbabwes dry regions would need food towards the end of this year.

Post published in: World News

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