Harare — THE weather outlook is favourable to Zimbabwe's efforts to increase food production but economic challenges, aggravated by the coronavirus (COVID-19), could adversely affect yields.
The rainfall outlook for the November 2020-January 2021 period points to a higher probability of above-normal rainfall, which according to experts points to conducive conditions for the 2021 cereal crops.
However, the increased risk of excessive rainfall and flood damage is another lingering concern.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) favourable rainfall outlook could support an upturn in yields compared to the reduced levels of the previous two years.
These years have coincided with economic challenges and flooding.
The challenges are forecast to limit the area planted and thus reduction in input use reflecting a decline in income.
The projections have not deterred farmers from working their land in anticipation of changed fortunes.
"Early rainfall amounts in October were estimated to be mostly above average, boosting soil moisture levels and supporting crop germination," FAO stated.
The government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa is backing farmers in their efforts.
It is implementing programmes to support farmers' access to agricultural inputs.
Among the initiatives is the Presidential Input Scheme, which is targeting about 1,8 million smallholder farmers and promoting the adoption of conservation agriculture techniques.
However, the reduced income level, in the context of high annual inflation rates is expected to hamper farmers' access to agricultural inputs, including seeds, fertilizers and labour.
This again could result in a reduction in the planted area compared to the average.
Production of cereals in 2020 is estimated at 1,25 million tonnes, about 13 percent below the five-year average.
Zimbabwe relies on imports to boost availability.
FAO noted that the recently increasing prices of maize grain in South Africa were likely to raise import prices further.
"However, prices in Zambia, the second main exporter in the sub-region, have been more stable and this could limit overall import costs for the country," FAO stated.
In Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique Madagascar, humanitarian assistance needs are increasing.
According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), staple foods from own production are limited for many poor households in deficit-producing parts of the region.
These households have increasing reliance on market purchases for food, resulting in increased demand on the markets.
"This is expected to trigger price increases in the coming months," FEWS NET stated.
FEWS NET also noted international forecasts indicated the average cumulative 2020/21 rainfall was most likely across Southern Africa.
The agency stated while this is positive for the 2020/21 agriculture season, there was an increased likelihood of flooding, particularly in low-lying, flood-prone areas of Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
"Additionally, there is an increased risk of tropical cyclones," FEWS NET stated.