Zimbabwe is facing its worst winter wheat season as most farmers contemplate abandoning the crop because of problems in accessing inputs.
Farmers have failed to access financial support to acquire inputs and are now describing the 2012 season as the worst season ever. Government announced a US$20 million input facility which did not kick off as it later came to light that the facility had been announced without proper consultation with stakeholders.
Farmers, on the other hand, got the impression that the announcement by Government through the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development and the
Ministry of Finance was real and as such rushed to the said financial institutions, only to be told that nothing of that sort had been communicated to them.
This left farmers moving from one point to the other as they tried to get an explanation on how the facility was to function. But, alas, no concrete explanation came to the farmers until the end of planting date of May 25.
Although Government had set a target of 26 000 hectares, with no support this target has since become unrealistic with different provinces having planted less than 10 000 hectares.
Last season, authorities set a target of 70 000 hectares, which, again, could not be met, resulting in farmers managing to grow only 14 100 hectares.
About 41 000 tonnes of the crop were harvested against the country’s annual requirement of 400 000 tonnes.
To show how bad this season has been, a drive to most of the traditional wheat growing areas revealed a sad scenario where a handful of farmers have grown the crop on self-funding, thereby reducing hectarage
In some cases, farmers had done land preparations in anticipation of accessing inputs under the US$20 million facility and failed to plant.
In Mashonaland Central, the bulk of wheat farmers had planted less than 10 000 hectares by the end of May with individual growers planting as little as five hectares out of the usual 50 hectares and above.
In Mashonaland West, the situation was the same with the province having managed to do less than 15 000 hectares with Manicaland as well as Mashonaland East having done the lowest hectarages.
This is now a clear sign that the country is to depend on imports.
A Harare-based agricultural services consultant, Mr Elliot Chamanga, said it was clear that farmers were ready to meet the set target.
“Farmers were forced to travel up and down, from one point to the other until the planting deadline passed with no tangible results,” he said.
“They were left with no option but to abandon planting even after they had finished land preparation. It was, again, too late to look for alternatives.’’
Another contributory factor was power shortage.
Most farmers have lost confidence in electricity distribution as the commissioned power utility does not stick to its load-shedding schedules.
“Having said that, the questions that now arise are: will Zimbabwean wheat farmers ever be back on their feet, considering the downward trend that has characterised every winter wheat season? Where is the country heading in terms of wheat growing?’’ said Mr Chamanga.
He said while the above questions remain unanswered, several players in the field have described the downward trend as sad.
Inputs as well as financial support were availed on time in the past.
Farmers would have, by the end of April, secured all their inputs, including working capital.
Mr Chamanga said this was made simple through a stop-order system whereby farmers would access inputs from Grain Marketing Board depots.
The farmers were then expected to pay back on delivering their crop to the parastatal within three days. After deliveries, the farmers were expected to drive back to their farms with truckloads of inputs for the next season.
“The system was efficient as GMB was a one-stop shop. Farmers were also assured of a market for their grain with payment being done right on time,’’ said Mr Chamanga.
“Wheat deliveries from October would see farmers leaving the depots loaded with inputs for the summer cropping season, which begins in November.
“It was a cycle where production on the farms was non-stop.”
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president Mr Donald Khumalo associated the present systems with the economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the West.
He said the sanctions were, among other objectives, designed to stifle the land reform programme.
“The whole idea is to give the outside world an impression that those who got land have failed when in actual fact they are being made to fail by the creation of these harsh conditions,’’ he said.
“My appeal to Government is that it should not be taken for a ride by some elements in the inclusive Government by denouncing our farmers who are operating under difficult conditions.
“We have heard some Government officials suggesting that land should be ‘repossessed’. The question is: are these farmers failing deliberately? The answer is simple, no.
“The conditions being created under the inclusive Government are also making it difficult for our farmers to produce. This is evidenced by the fact that from 2000 to 2008, things were moving well in the sector as farmers were being supported.’’
Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union executive director Mr Paul Zakariya said farmers should never lose heart because of the chaos in the sector.
He said the union gets worried when some Government officials castigate farmers.
“What was the farmer expected to do when he or she visited the designated points for inputs collection and was told there was no arrangement in place?’’
“Farmers have proved their ability many times and we are convinced that if given the inputs on time, they can produce enough to meet the country’s needs. Again, the issue of availability of electricity to irrigate needs to be addressed as wheat production requires a lot of irrigation water.’’