The Herald (Harare)

1 January 2013

Zimbabwe: 2012 - Mixed Fortunes for Agric Sector

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The year 2012 saw Zimbabwe's agricultural sector continuing on the upward trend registering a 4,6 percent growth and contributing 5,6 percent towards real Gross Domestic Product. The sector was, however, heavily crippled by a lack of investment by both Government and the private sector.

Growth in the sector was pushed by massive success in the tobacco sector, which saw better prices being offered at the auction floors, organised marketing and improvement in the welfare of farmers at the auction floors.

This is despite the fall in production and marketing of cotton that suffered from low international prices.

A low producer price and delays in payment by the Grain Marketing Board for grain deliveries affected maize production with most farmers opting out of maize production to try other crops. This is likely to affect food availability in the country.

Tobacco

The 2012 tobacco marketing season ran for a total 145 selling days for both auction and contract tobacco sales. There were 71 316 registered tobacco growers with over 80 percent of them coming from the small-scale sector and growing an average of 1,3 hectares each. The licensing of four tobacco auction floors eased the marketing of the golden leaf.

The four -- Tobacco Sales Floor, Boka Tobacco Floor, Premier Tobacco Floor and Millennium Tobacco Floor -- helped reduce congestion and chaos that has always characterised the selling season.

A total of 144,5 million kilogrammes of flue cured tobacco was sold, with contract sales accounting for 63, 95 percent of the sales. Seasonal average price per kilogramme for flue cured tobacco was US$3,65 per kilogramme, an increase from the 2011 average price of US$2,73 per kilogramme. This saw growers pocketing a total of US$527 million compared to the US$361,4 million in the previous year, an increase of 46 percent earnings to growers.

According to the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board chairperson, Mrs Monica Chinamasa, the marketing season progressed satisfactorily although there were some challenges faced by farmers.

Farmers, however, complained of alleged price fixing in the sector which saw US$5 as the highest price remaining constant for the entire selling season.

With a number of farmers having been shifting to tobacco production and without adequate knowledge of the crop the TIMB must increase and decentralise educational workshops to ensure it captures all the farmers. Tobacco contract farming remained an envy of other sectors in agriculture. As such, Government should work towards replicating the same in other agricultural commodities, especially cotton and maize.

Tobacco is expected to continue to grow and hit the 170 million kilogrammes mark in the 2013 selling season. The biggest challenge remains the proposed ban on the production of the crop by World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

Wheat

Wheat production remained suppressed and 2012 can be described as the worst season.

As such, the country has become a net wheat importer as production has continued to fall due to low prices and increasing production costs.

Local banks were reluctant to finance wheat production due to the high risk associated with the crop.

In 2012, 17 000 tonnes of wheat were produced against a national requirement 450 000 tonnes.

Announcing the 2013 national budget, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said recovery of wheat production under irrigation required a paradigm shift with regards to guaranteed availability of power, inputs, equipment and finances. Farmers also needed guaranteed rates of return and timeous payments against deliveries.

On the backdrop of these challenges importing is now the only option for Zimbabwe's baking industry.

Cotton

The cotton sector last year was severely affected by the price wars with farmers demanding high prices citing the increased production costs while ginners refused to adjust the prices.

They cited the decline in international cotton prices that plummeted from US 85 cents to US 45 cents per kilogramme, greatly affecting the buying of the commodity on the local market. To cushion cotton farmers, Government had to come in and pegged the lowest price at US 77 cents per kilogramme. However, ginners refused to adjust the prices and continued paying low prices of US30 cents per kilogramme.

Some farmers had to withhold their crop while others who were desperate for cash sold it at give-away prices. As a result of the price impasse, cotton production is set to decline from 350 000 tonnes to 283 000 tonnes in 2013. Cotton growers felt Government had let them down by gazetting prices and failing to enforce payment by ginners. This forced many farmers in areas with better soils to switch from cotton to tobacco, sunflower and soya beans.

The few that remained opted for alternative crops suitable for their soils. For the 2012/13 season, some farmers opted to grow the crop on their own without support from companies.

Maize

Zimbabwe harvested nearly one million tonnes of maize from the 2011/12 summer cropping season.

This left the country with a deficit of nearly a million tonnes that was covered by grain in the strategic reserve and imports.

A total of 1 689 786 hectares were put under maize during the 2011/12 season registering a decrease of 19 percent from the 2010/11 season which had 2 096 035ha of maize planted. Forty-five percent of the maize that was planted this season is a write-off.

Government had to move grain from areas of surplus to areas of deficit while private companies were allowed to continue importing maize, wheat and flour. The lower producer prices did not push farmers to increase maize hectarage. The country is expected to produce less in the coming season.

Soyabeans

Local demand for soyabeans was on the increase due to its multiple uses.

As a result, a number of financing facilities of more than US$35 million were planned for the 2013 season.

These included an injection of US$5,6 million by Olivine Industries, US$425 million Agricultural Marketing Authority Bills, as well as US$5 million tripartite initiated facility involving the Grain Marketing Board, Agribank, farmers and oil expressers.

The Infrastructure Development Bank also expressed interest in sponsoring 10 000 hectares of soya beans on Arda Estates.

Dairy

There were signs of recovery in the dairy sector in 2012. A four percent growth was recorded in the dairy sector with lactating cows expected to increase to 12 500 and output of 70 million litres of milk from 64,5 million litres. The improvement in the dairy sector has been attributed to factors such as the on-going support initiatives through Nestle's initiative, of importing dairy cows and partnering with Arda, Zimbabwe Farmers Union, Commercial Farmers Union and the National Association of Dairy Farmers.

Livestock

Drought has seen the death of many cattle in areas such as Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North, Masvingo, Midlands and Manicaland due to drought.

The impact of drought also saw an increase in the slaughter of cattle from monthly averages of 19 000 to 24 000 as farmers attempted to reduce their losses.

The drought also resulted in the decline in calving rate, hampering efforts of growing the national herd to 5,2 million.

In the year Government also came in to assist livestock producers in the affected areas by moving stockfeeds so they become more accessible to farmers.

Although the stock feed distribution programme began late after close to 1 000 cattle had died due to lack of pastures and water, it has since assisted a number of farmers to stop their cattle herds from being further depleted by the effects of drought.

Through Government's drought mitigation initiative the Ministry of Finance released US$2 million late in September, which saw the purchase of vaccines for 152 830 cattle. The money was also used to buy survival rations, hay and molasses.

The stock feed is being sold on a cost recovery basis with sales proceeds being collected by the Livestock Development Committees to purchase more feed for the programme.

Poultry

Many farmers have ventured into poultry production and this has also seen an increase in the production of broiler day old chicks by 12 percent from the previous year production.

Local farmers continue to face stiff competition from cheap imports threatening viability of local producers.

Farmers have also raised concern over the increase in inputs costs, particularly maize and soya meal. Poultry producers have continuously called on Government to reduce poultry imports to boost local businesses.

Piggery

The pig herd continued to increase from 7 000 in 2012 to 13 000 in 2012. Pork production also increased from 9 000 tonnes in 2010 to 13 000 by 2012. Most small-scale producers, however, complain over the high costs of stockfeed.

Grain Marketing Board

The Grain Marketing Board presented challenges to many farmers who spent several months waiting for payment. Some farmers opted to sell their crop to private buyers who paid instant cash.

GMB buys grain at US$295 per tonne, a price which many farming experts said was viable. The only challenge was that the parastatal took long to pay farmers, greatly hampering production in the process.

Towards the end of year, GMB however managed to pay the bulk of the farmers and this assisted many in preparing for the summer cropping season.

Input support

This farming season seed and fertilisers were readily available on the open market with the seed industry confirming that it had enough seed in stock.

The major challenge for many farmers, however, remained shortage of cash.

The US$20 million Presidential Well Wishers Scheme came as a relief to people in the communal, peri urban and urban sectors who were struggling to buy inputs. This was complemented by Agribank's US$15 million maize loan facility to benefit A2 farmers. The response from A2 farmers was overwhelming and the bank received applications of more than US$15 million, forcing the bank to apply for more funds from Government.

Late onset of rainfall season

The late onset of the rainfall season affected crop production as many farmers failed to plant on time.

Some farmers planted with the first rains and their crops wilted due to the dry weather conditions that persisted soon after the initial rains.

As the year came to an end most farmers were still preparing land for summer cropping while others have been forced into replanting.

Experts have, however, urged farmers to continue planting as the late onset of rains could be a reflection of shifting rainfall seasons.

Agricultural economists are however agreed that this presents an opportunity for Government to increase investment in irrigation and counter the effects of drought.

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