13 May 2011

Zimbabwe: Wheat Season in Disarray

This year's wheat winter season is headed for disaster because farmers are reluctant to start planting the crop due to fears of power outages and inconsistent water supplies.

Commercial Farmers Union president Deron Theron said this winter wheat season is likely to be in disaster in terms of output owing to lack of assurance from Zesa, absence of lines of credit from banks and shortages of inputs on the market.

"We have a shortage of 340 000 tonnes which we are importing but we can produce more than this in the country. Due to lack of lines of credit from banks and lack of inputs we cannot produce this, even water from Zinwa is now expensive and the supply is inconsistent," said Theron.

"Last season, 10 000 hectares of wheat were planted and only 7 000 tonnes were produced. Zimbabwe at its peak in the 2001/2 season produced more than 341 000 tonnes and since then the production has been declining drastically. Last season recorded the worst ever performance."

The farmers will require at least 66 megawatts (MW) of electricity with an estimated total of 44 611 hectares expected to be put under winter wheat.

Zimbabwe Electricity and Transmission Distribution Company (ZETDC) acting general manager Julian Chinembiri said the power utility held a series of meetings with farmers unions on power supplies.

"The farmers need at least three days a week of power supplies to be able to irrigate," he said.

Wheat farmers have in the past seasons blamed lack of consistent power supplies for negatively impacting on winter wheat farming.

Zimbabwe is facing a perennial power shortage with demand at 2 100 MW far surpassing supply currently standing between 1 300 MW and 1 400 MW.

Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) spokesperson Marjorie Munyonga denied water was expensive.

She dismissed the allegations that water is expensive saying this has become "a seasonal cry" for farmers.

Munyonga said Zinwa is willing to assist farmers in any way possible, adding there was more water in dams this season.

"Water levels are very high this season in all our dams. Farmers just want to complain but water is very cheap and available. We charge US$12 per mega litre which means US$12 per 1 million litres. Farmers only have to get into agreements with us and acquire permits." she said.

Zimbabwe Farmers Union chief economist Prince Kuipa said funds government availed to assist farmers cannot meet their demands, adding there is need for other stakeholders to come in and assist .

The annual wheat consumption requirements is around 450 000 tonnes.

"Zimbabwe needs to import wheat worth over US$150 million to meet an expected shortfall of 440 000 tonnes and the government gave us US$10 million which covers less than 12 000 hectares which produces 60 000 tonnes in a good season which is a drop in the ocean in terms of what the nation need.

"At least 60 000 hectares was supposed to be put under wheat this year but farmers had planted only 10 000 hectares," he said.

Although international wheat prices are low, the local price is attractive. For instance, while the International Grains Council revealed that the price of wheat is at US$280 per tonne, the local market offers more than that.

Finance minister Tendai Biti admitted in his 2011 budget that over the years wheat production has been decreasing owing to declining hectare, funding challenges and unreliable power supply and out of the targeted hectarage of 45 000 hectares, farmers only managed to put 12 000 hectares using inputs worth US$5 million.

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