6 March 2008

Zimbabwe: Govt Report Projects Massive Grain Deficit

Harare — ZIMBABWE will need to import grain because only 14 percent of land targeted for maize had been planted by December, and much of this crop was adversely affected by fertiliser shortages, a report co-sponsored by the government says.

A joint team comprising the Ministry of Agriculture, Operation Maguta, a programme run by the military, the Food and Agricultural Organisation, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network and the Meteorological Office, prepared the "First Round Crop Assessment Report".

Government dubbed 2007-8 the "mother of all agricultural seasons", and ploughed resources into importing farm equipment, fertiliser and seed.

But in its executive summary, the report paints a dire picture of the season, saying the government must prepare for grain imports after its failure to secure enough fertiliser and seed resulted in only a fraction of the targeted land being planted.

"Potential yield from mid to late planted crop is likely to be compromised by the fertiliser shortage. The total expected production for this season might not meet the expected targets. For this reason, there is need to look into contingency plans for food imports," the report said.

The report was compiled after an assessment undertaken in February this year.

Government had targeted two million hectares for maize this season. But the report says: "Early planted crop (by the end of November) is at the grain filling stage and constitutes 14 percent of the total area planted."

The bulk of the maize crop, or 86 percent, was only planted between December last year and January this year.

"This crop ranges mostly from early vegetative stages to early reproductive stage and is showing signs of severe nitrogen shortage due to excessive leaching, compounded by the shortage of fertiliser."

The bulk of the seed maize had been acquired through Operation Maguta, "however, some seed was not delivered on time", the report found.

Total seed maize supplied by government and non-governmental organizations was 26 791 metric tonnes, enough to cover 1.7 million hectares.

But fuel supply was inadequate in all provinces, the report said, and back up spares for farm machinery were also scarce.

Tomorrow, President Robert Mugabe launches a third phase of the farm mechanisation programme, designed to retool resettled farms, most of which were stripped of infrastructure during the fast-track land reform exercise, which began in 2000.

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