Worst harvest in 50 years: CFU

Zimbabwe is heading for its worst harvest in 50 years unless something is done by the government to secure property rights for farmers, the Commercial Farmers Union has said.

The warning comes against a background of increased volatility in world food prices, which reached new heights earlier this year. The impact of food price volatility on Africa was the subject of a briefing organised in Brussels by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU on November 30.

The date was significant because it marked the end of the French presidency of the G20 which had put the issue of food price volatility at the top of its agenda. In two panel discussions, those attending the briefing debated the causes of food price volatility and discussed policy recommendations to improve food security in developing countries.

In 2008, global food prices spiked due to an increase in the use of food crops for biofuel, extreme weather affecting crops and an increase in trading on futures markets. This led to a food crisis in many African countries and exacerbated the problem in Zimbabwe, where a drought which destroyed much of the maize harvest, as well as the unstable political situation meant that about five million people – almost half of the country's population – was starving and needed food aid.

This, coupled with Mugabe's disastrous land policy, meant the country produced just 500,000 tonnes of maize in the 2007/2008 agricultural season. The country needs at least two million tonnes of maize to feed the population.

Dire outlook

Earlier this year, world prices again reached the levels of the 2008 food crisis, although it has not had the same devastating impact because the 2010 harvests in many African countries were above average. However, the outlook in Zimbabwe next year is looking increasingly dire.

With a possible election next year and increasing political violence against the few remaining commercial farmers, many have been unwilling or unable to start planting this year.

The situation has alarmed the CFU who are warning that maize production could drop to as little at 400,000 tonnes next year unless the government works with farmers to restore property rights and create an active land market.

Charles Taffs, president of the CFU, said: “We have entered an agriculture season, which in our view is the least prepared for in over 50 years. Growers of all sizes, and from all backgrounds have no security; there is little funding available for inputs and their ability to plan have been removed due to the constant threat of eviction. Agricultural production has been held up because of the political situation. I can't understand where the government position is coming from. I'm going through the country and the situation is dire.”

He estimates, that at current planting levels, only 400,000 tonnes of maize will be produced next year, leaving Zimbabwe with a deficit of 1.6million tonnes. He warned that Zimbabwe could not count on its neighbours to produce enough export grain to feed the country, despite increased harvests in Zambia and Malawi.

Import export deficit

"As long as we continue like this, the deficit between import and export is going to continue to grow until the situation is unsustainable – and we are nearing that now. It really concerns me."

Despite improved harvests in 2010, the country is still struggling to feed itself and the situation is getting worse.

More than a million people in Zimbabwe will require food aid between now and March 2012 with 12 per cent of the rural population unable to buy food, according to the World Food Programme. But the UN agency is facing a $42million shortfall in funding to carry on feeding the most vulnerable in the country over the next four months.

The problem of the situation in Zimbabwe, and the effect it is having on the region, was raised at the briefing in Brussels. Tobias Takavarasha, from the New Partnership for Africa's Development agency, talked about food price volatility in Africa as part of the second panel discussion.

In his presentation he said the political problems in Zimbabwe "appear to have contributed to price instability in the region – Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia" admitting that "effective policies are required to address the problem".

Although he refused to comment directly on the Zimbabwe situation, he did stress the need for food reserves in southern Africa to alleviate an impending food crisis.

Great potential

In 2006, SADC did propose a regional food reserve facility to cope with any disasters in member states, but little progress has been made on implementing this. Hafez Ghanem, the Assistant Director-General of the FAO, was also unwilling to talk specifically about Zimbabwe. But he said:

“Africa needs its governments to invest in agriculture. The real way of reducing food insecurity and increasing productivity is to reinvest in agriculture. Africa has great potential, yields are so low, we have a real opportunity for moving up.”

Zimbabwe's finance minister Tendai Biti, has admitted the country needs to invest $2.5billion a year in agriculture to ensure the country is able to feed itself.

"The financial requirements for adequate support to agriculture are large, translating to around $2.5bn per annum for grain, cash crops as well as livestock production," he said, adding $702million needed to be invested in grain production.

He has promised a three year finance strategy which will see considerable investment in agriculture which he has said he will announce early next year.

"During the first quarter of 2012, I will be announcing the detailed financing structure of the three-year Agriculture Rolling Financing Strategy, tapping from both public and private sources,” he said.

Post published in: Africa News

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