THE current farming season has seen a significant number of farmers diverting from traditional crops such as maize to venture into soyabean production and other small grains which are fetching lucrative prices on the market despite being capital intensive.
Zimbabwe Farmers' Union vice president Mr Berean Mukwende pointed out that a lot of farmers have turned to soyabeans from maize and cotton due to a number of factors.
These include the rainfall patterns received in a region, the high selling prices being offered compared to cotton for example, which fetched a low US$0,35 per kg last marketing season after initially having been pegged at US$1,50 per kg and the payment method after crop delivery which is spontaneous when selling soyabeans.
"Most farmers in the high-rainfall areas of Mashonaland provinces have turned to soyabean farming as it requires more rainfall while the crop continues to be unfavourable in areas such as Matabeleland North and South, Masvingo and parts of the Midlands which are generally dry areas.
"The on-the-spot payment that has been happening in the soyabean sector has also enticed most of our farmers as they want to realise their efforts there and there unlike crops such as maize whereby they deliver first and get paid much later," said Mr Mukwende.
According to a ZFU report released in early 2012, Staywell Trading was offering the highest price for soyabeans last marketing season at US$520 per tonne, GMB was offering US$500 per tonne while Kurima Gold was offering US$480 per tonne.
Such prices are sure to lure farmers into growing the soyabeans at the expense of crops such as maize fetching a price ranging between US$225-US$280 per tonne last marketing season.
However, there were some farmers who were willing to venture into the crop but were financially constrained to do so.
"Soyabean production is capital intensive and most of the chemicals required for spraying are costly. To avoid the effects of diseases which affect the crop, you need to spray the crop 50 days after germination then spray again at 80 days failing which will result in the yield reduced by about 60 percent," added Mr Mukwende.
Soyabean seed is said to be selling at about US$1 800 per tonne against a cost of about US$550 per tonne that would have been paid to the seed producers.
Mr Mukwende suggested that Government and stakeholders come up with a regulatory system governing terms of contract farmers as there was a lot of interest among investors willing to venture into soyabean production. Such measures would ensure a contracted farmer would go into the deal aware of the terms involved.
Soyabean expert and member of the National Soya Bean Taskforce Professor Sheunesu Mpepereki agreed with ZFU position on the various issues affecting soyabean farmers and prospective farmers.
"Farmers have been struggling to get seed as the pricing is beyond the reach of many.
"The price is pegged at US$45 for a 25kg pocket. This means a farmer would need to spend about US$180 per hectare," he said.
"Pesticides are also very expensive to most of our farmers who may even fail to apply the little top dressing fertiliser (rhizobium) that is required for a healthy crop," he added.
Rhizobium fixes nitrogen from the air into ammonia which acts as a natural fertiliser for the plants.
Professor Mpepereki pointed out that most soya- bean farmers were discouraged because they did not have harvesting equipment and ended up incurring losses during harvest.
A National Soya Bean Association is now in place to mobilise resources to boost soyabean farming.
In February 2012, it was reported that South Korea pledged US$150 000 to assist Zimbabwe with mechanisation for soyabean producers offering equipment that would reduce production costs while maximising yields.
Professor Mpepereki also expressed concern over the limited knowledge that farmers have in soyabean farming which he said significantly affects the quality and quantity of the yield.
"I have been receiving a lot of questions concerning soyabean production from farmers and that has prompted me to write a book on soyabean farming which will go a long way in assisting our farmers get the best out of the crop. I am still to conclude the book though," he said.
Soyabean production is expected to rise following the injection of US$35 million by Government and the private sector to enhance production.
An increase from 70 500 tonnes last year to about 115 000 tonnes this season is anticipated.
In the 2011-2012 season drought and late planting affected yield resulting in only about 70 000 tonnes being produced representing about a third of the country's requirement of about 200 000 tonnes.
There is also an increase in the demand of the legume's by-products such as cooking oil and stockfeed.
According to a recent publication by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce on Trade and Investment 2012, in Zimbabwe soyabean contributes 30 percent of all cooking oil requirements.
Tobacco is the only other crop that is proving to be popular with most farmers particularly A1 and small-scale communal farmers apart from soyabeans.
Statistics from the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board as highlighted by a document released in December 2012 by the African Development Bank on Zimbabwe's state of the economy stated that to date 63 352 flue-cured tobacco farmers had registered to grow the crop compared to last season's 33 808, representing an increase of about 94 percent.