12 October 2011

Zimbabwe: Farmers Decry Input Costs

AS the 2011/2012 agricultural season approaches, for the first time in more than a decade, inputs such as seed, chemicals and fertilisers are in abundance, but farmers say the inputs are not affordable.

To produce one hectare of maize, a farmer would need 25kg of seed, six 50kg bags of Ammonium Nitrate and eight 50kg bags of Compound D, costing a total of approximately US$480.

This does not include tillage, fuel, labour, pesticides, herbicides and harvesting.

Zimbabwe Farmers Union vice-president, Berean Mukwende, said framers could not afford to fund their own agricultural activities because the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) was yet to pay them for deliveries made to the institution since January.

"Farmers have not been paid by GMB. This money was critical for farmers to secure their own inputs and they have not repaid last season's loans due to late payments and banks are therefore not approving new loans.

"Also, the financial institutions' interest rates are unviable as 18 percent is too high for most farmers in this business," Mukwende said.

The Commercial Farmers Union president also said at least 83 percent of loans from last season had not been repaid, resulting in inadequate funding for the 2012 farming season.

In preparation of next season, government released US$45 million under the subsidised summer input scheme which is expected to benefit both small-scale and commercial farmers.

However, the funding was not enough to finance the 2012 agricultural season since US$703 million was required for working capital, tillage, fertilisers, agro-chemicals and fuel.

"About US$45 million is for the vulnerable groups, the aged, disabled, and child-headed families and not for commercial production. Contractors can only do about 15 percent of farmers' requirements and they also depend on banks.

"Only cotton contractors are moving as these are able to suppress farmers by controlling both the input and output side, but they have been hit by high default rates; and in tobacco, most small farmers are using their own resources, but at the end of the day, they compromise on quality as they do not apply recommended inputs," Mukwende said.

To finance one hectare of tobacco, growers need at least US$12 000.

To produce one hectare of seed maize, a farmer would need at least US$827 while the producer price is pegged at US$450 per tonne. Farmers have been producing an average of one tonne per hectare.

Soyabeans farmers would have to fork out US$787 per hectare while selling their crop at US$500 per tonne.

However, yield per hectare has affected most farmers' gross incomes, with most farmers producing an average of 1,5 tonnes per hectare of maize while for soyabeans average output per hectare is at 2,5 tonnes.

Late preparations for summer cropping in previous years had compromised food security at both national and household levels. But this year, all inputs are available except for funding.

Senior adviser to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor, Munyaradzi Kereke, said there was need to adequately finance agriculture since every developed country in the world was effectively funding their agricultural sectors.

"There is no country in the world that has prospered without adequately supporting farmers financially. Farmers in Europe, China, Japan and America are being financially supported and their governments have a strong budget for agriculture every year," he said.

"Suspension of support to farmers will lead to over-dependency on donors. A2 farmers should be funded like any other farmer because what they produce is consumed by other sectors. Everyone needs food, clothing and fuel and all these are products from the agriculture sector," said Kereke.

For the 2011/12 season, government has targeted 2,63 million hectares for grain production, of which two million hectares will be for maize production and the remaining 630 000 hectares for small grains.

The Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) forecast suggests that much of the southern half of the region will have higher chances of normal to below normal rainfall between October and December this year, which implies the possibility of erratic early rains that may lead to a poor start of the season.

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